Anglers Upset Over DNR's Decision to Close French River Hatchery

November 10, 2016 07:42 PM

The DNR said Thursday it's closing the 1970s-era French River Hatchery near Duluth because it needs $8 million in upgrades, and because it consumes 10 percent of all energy used by the DNR statewide.

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The hatchery produces Kamloops trout for stocking in Lake Superior. It's a domesticated strain of rainbow trout that can't reproduce naturally in Lake Superior. The DNR says the hatchery is inefficient because it has to heat the lake's cold water to a temperature at which fish can be raised. Each fish an angler keeps costs around $160 to produce there.

Merle Siemsen has been fishing for nearly 60 years. We caught up with him at the French River on a beautiful Thursday afternoon, as he and several others attempted to catch a kamloop.

Kamloops are rainbow trout, prized for their meat and their fight. "It's prime season right now," Siemsen told us.

He's disappointed to hear the DNR plans on closing the French River Hatchery, which is where some of the kamloops are grown and released from. Two thirds now come from a hatchery called Spire Valley.

Fellow fisherman Ross Pearson, from Kamloops Advocates, called the decision to close French River, a terrible one.

"Six years, ago, before they made the switch to Spire Valley, we had a better fishery. Virtually ever fisherman will tell you that we don't have nearly the number of fish to catch," Pearson. He's now worried that even smaller fish from Spire Valley won't survive the transplant as well, and lead to even fewer fish.

DNR Fisheries chief Don Pereira told us that there is a chance the kamloops will disappear.

"We're not sure how it's going to work with the fish all coming from Spire Valley. But we are going to try it, and evaluate it," he said. 

He said the decision to close the hatchery was a difficult one. But it comes down to money. The old facility consumes 10% of all the DNR's energy across the state.

Pearson knows it's expensive to continue stocking the kamloops. But he told us that shore fishing contributes $30 million dollars a year to the economy. 

One fisherman we met on Thursday said he comes to the area from the Twin Cities, and stays in a hotel, eats at restaurants, and buys gas.

Pereira added that kamloops were added to the area as an interim fish, when the steelhead population was in danger. But the steelheads are doing well now, he said. "And we're restoring other small trout fisheries, to give people opportunities to go out and fish. We can't restore the grandeur of fishing on the big lake, but we don't want people to stop fishing."

The four employees who work at the hatchery will continue working with the DNR.


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