Fishing industry should unite at public meetings
Written by Niagara Gazette   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 13:09

Starting next week, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation will be hosting a series of five public meetings around Lake Ontario to solicit public comment on a draft “Sportfishing Restoration and Spending Plan.” The public meeting for Region 9 will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at Lewiston-Porter High School.

The plan focuses on what to do with a $12 million settlement from Occidental Chemical, money that must be used to restore and enhance recreational fishing and fisheries in New York. The target area for this plan ranges from the Lower Niagara River to the St. Lawrence Seaway and all the waters in between. The DEC has narrowed potential projects and programs down to four basic categories.

They include:

1 — Public fishing access projects. Boat launches, fishing piers, public fishing rights — things like this fall into this category.

2 — Habitat Restoration Projects. Improving habitat for natural reproduction, stream bank stabilization and fish passage projects that would help restore or improve the existing resources.

3 — Angler Outreach/Education. Anything that reaches out to the public and the sportfishing community that involves the fishery, from standard fishing promotion to visitor interpretive displays.

4 — Fish population management and enhancement. From improving the hatchery responsible for Lake Ontario stocking to providing the tools for DEC to manage the resource effectively.

Stakeholders within the Lake Ontario framework have started to agree that No. 4 needs to be at the top of the list. And not only does it need to be at the top, it needs to be a priority that resonates from stakeholders throughout the basin.

For example, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery is the primary facility that provides salmon and trout to Lake Ontario. The hatchery is in need of improvements. Roughly $500,000 was identified in the governor’s executive budget last year to help rectify well and water flow improvements in Altmar. When it was all said and done, no money made its way to the Salmon River site. Other hatcheries around the state were higher on the totem pole in the way of priorities. Still, Lake Ontario is the No. 1 money maker when it comes to nonresident license sales. It’s the crown jewel of the state’s fishing royalty. We need to treat it as such. Let’s get that hatchery running the way it was designed to be, providing a quality product for stocking sites around the lake. A better product means a healthier fish, which in turn benefits survival rates.

How much is needed to make this happen? We’ve heard figures that have ranged from $500,000 to $2 million. Even if it’s more than that, let’s get it done and done right. We’ve been trying to get those figures on projected costs for the better part of a year now, and for some reason they’ve been keeping them close to the vest.

Along the same lines, they need to tool to assess the resource and give them the best possible data to make sound management decisions.

One tool that’s been talked about for some time is a state-of-the-art tagging trailer that would allow the DEC to tag every fish being stocked in the lake. The equipment is incredible and it’s something that is sorely needed to allow them to understand what’s happening in the ecosystem.

“The hatchery and the data sets used to manage the fishery are the cornerstones of Lake Ontario and the resource-based economic benefit we all enjoy,” said Bob Cinelli, Olcott charter guy and a member of the county’s Fisheries Development Board. “If you do not have a fishery, you do not need to have the other projects. It would best serve all stakeholders for the DEC to put together a comprehensive plan to address these issues first, share the plan and the costs with us, and move forward with implementation. After this is accomplished, then we can talk about the rest of the money.”

For more information on the plan, check out www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/habitat/nrd/ontspendplan.html
 
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