Each year, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department raises more than one million fish in concrete ponds and ponds at six hatcheries they operate statewide.
Once the fish have grown to the desired size, they are loaded onto trucks and driven throughout New Hampshire to be dropped off in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Depending on the location of a particular body of water and its ease of access, fish can be pumped through a tube attached to the tanker, transported by hand in nets or buckets, or even transported by helicopter. in some cases.
Stocking has been around in New Hampshire in one form or another for over a century. For those who grew up fishing here, the state’s annual stocking routine may seem normal. But to others, the idea of driving to put fish in lakes and ponds (and it’s not unique to New Hampshire) seems crazy. The obvious question is, why is this necessary? Are there not already fish in lakes, ponds and rivers?
The answer, according to Scott Mason, executive director of NH Fish and Game, is that the mineral makeup of New Hampshire water is such that it cannot support fish populations large or abundant enough to satisfy anglers.
But their solution, raising fish in hatcheries and then trucking them to favorite fishing grounds, is not without its problems, and water pollution in hatcheries is one of them.
When it comes to mass-producing animals in concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs), be it pigs, chickens or in this case fish, an inevitable side effect is a build-up of animal waste. Dealing with this waste has been a thorn in the side of NH Fish and Game for some time.
At the Powder Mill Fish hatchery in New Durham, the farm’s wastewater is discharged directly into the Merrymeeting River, and for years NH Fish and Game has exceeded pollutant levels allowed under its permit to l ‘EPA. This contributed to the proliferation of harmful cyanobacteria in the river and also brought NH Fish and Game to court.
Seeing an opportunity in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, NH Fish and Game recently requested and received $ 1,000,000 from the recovery fund to address water pollution issues in hatcheries. The grant will be used for the planning stages of the construction of a wastewater treatment facility at the Powder Mill Hatchery.
In other words, NH Fish and Game will use federal funds from ARPA, which are intended to help states recover economically from the pandemic and build more resilient infrastructure, to solve its pollution problem – a problem. for which NH Fish and Game is fully responsible and should pay out of its own budget.
There are also technical reasons for disqualifying the project. Although ARPA funds can effectively be used for “necessary investments in projects that improve sewage and storm water treatment infrastructure,” the eligibility conditions, which are the same as for the Fund. renewables for existing water sanitation, stipulate that support is available for projects to control ‘non’ point source ‘pollution, while fish hatcheries are’ point source ‘polluters .
As it is our organization’s mission to help animals, what bothers us the most about this grant is not the misuse of funds, but the fact that it means a long-term commitment to the hatcheries. and the stocking program.
“Everyone understands that these require major investments,” Governor Sununu told the Executive Council before voting to approve the ARPA grant.
We are concerned about stocking as this practice interferes with nature and raises animal welfare concerns.
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that fish not only experience pain, but are also much more sophisticated creatures than previously believed. Yet in hatcheries, fish are crammed into sterile ponds doing nothing but swimming in circles.
Once released into water bodies, hatchery fish may be ill-equipped to survive or may compete with native fish for food. They can also bring with them diseases and / or parasites that fish raised in crowded conditions usually endure.
At a time when audiences are learning that there is a lot more going on in the minds of fish than we ever imagined (consider the popularity of documentaries like My Octopus Teacher and Seaspiracy), New Hampshire is planning a future where fish will continue to be treated as consumable items.
Instead of investing even more money in the hatcheries, NH Fish and Game should shut them down and redirect resources towards better management of the state’s water bodies to support native fish.
NH Fish and Game is already doing some of this work and could do more if the bulk of the inland fisheries budget was not spent on stocking. When water bodies were restored by removing dams to allow streams to flow freely, for example, native fish populations rebounded.
And unlike the fish stocking merry-go-round, restoration projects are long-term, self-sustaining improvements that benefit not only native fish, but entire aquatic ecosystems as well.
(Joan O’Brien is a member of the board of directors of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League.)