The fish hatchery that has produced salmon for Grand Lake Stream and other top Maine fishing destinations for more than a century could be closed as part of a package of hard-hitting budget cuts under consideration by state officials.
The Grand Lake Stream Fish Hatchery dates back to the 1870s and helps support one of Maine’s most famous fisheries for landlocked salmon. But the aging and costly facility has been included on a list of proposed cuts aimed at closing what is expected to be a massive hole in the next state budget.
Other proposed reductions at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that are being reviewed by Gov. John Baldacci’s budget staff would cut into many programs enjoyed by sportsmen and the general public.
— Elimination of 10 game warden positions out of 124 statewide.
— Loss of at least three biologists.
— Discontinuation of tagging stations for deer and other big game.
— Elimination of DIF&W’s deputy commissioner position.
“When you cut resources and you cut funding, clearly something is going to have to give,” said Roland “Danny” Martin, DIF&W commissioner.
Every department throughout the state bureaucracy has prepared similar plans to reduce spending by 10 percent for the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1, 2009. The governor is reviewing those hypothetical cost-saving plans as well as a $150 million curtailment plan for the current budget.
“You can bet that there will be pain all throughout government,” said David Farmer, spokesman for Baldacci.
Closure of the Grand Lake Stream hatchery — located in the heart of this remote fishing village — would affect only 5 to 10 percent of DIF&W’s total hatchery operation. But the hatchery produces landlocked salmon not only for Grand Lake Stream and other Down East lakes and streams but also juvenile salmon for as far away as the Rangeley region.
Other hatcheries, such as the Enfield facility, could produce some additional salmon that then would have to be trucked to Grand Lake Stream or other water bodies, said Todd Langevin, superintendent of fish hatcheries at DIF&W.
But capacity is limited at Enfield and all of the other facilities, Langevin said. The Grand Lake Stream hatchery is also older and is in need of a wastewater treatment upgrade that would cost $250,000 to $500,000.
Langevin said he hopes many of the people who enjoy fishing for landlocked salmon at Grand Lake Stream will contact their lawmakers if the hatchery closure makes it into a budget bill. The hatchery produced roughly 47,000 landlocked salmon and more than 18,000 brook trout last year.
“From my point of view, the last thing I want to do is close the facility,” he said.
The campaign to fight the closure is gearing up already.
Dennis Labare, a retired ecologist and stream biologist who lives in Grand Lake Stream part of the year, predicted that the local landlocked salmon fishery would “essentially collapse” in the absence of stocking.
Labare has been traveling to the area since he was a boy and wrote a detailed history of the fishery in his 2007 book, “Tagewahnah: The Landlocked Salmon at Grand Lake Stream.” Labare cites in DIF&W estimates that more than 90 percent of the salmon in Grand Lake Stream, West Grand Lake and Big Lake are of hatchery origin.
“To lose that … would have an enormous ripple effect on Grand Lake Stream,” Labare said. “This would be a real dagger at the heart of that place.”
Nancy Betz, who owns and operates Grand Lake Stream Camps with her husband, Gary, said residents and business owners are very concerned about the possible closure. Many of the Betzes’ clientele return year after year because they love the fishing and the atmosphere of the town.
Take away the prized fishing and you’ve eliminated a major reason people come to this remote corner of Washington County.
“Why close something that is working?” Betz said. “The economy hurt a lot of camps this year and now something like this is too much.”
Of course, fishermen wouldn’t be the only lovers of the outdoors to feel impacts from the budget cuts. The proposed elimination of eight game wardens and two warden sergeants would further stretch an agency that struggles to meet existing demands for services.
Maj. Greg Sanborn said cuts of that size would force the Warden Service to re-evaluate its operations.
Search and rescue as well as law enforcement are critical parts of the service’s mission, Sanborn said. But people seeking help with nuisance or sick animals may have to be referred to a self-help guide rather than have a busy warden respond, he said.
“That’s a pretty substantial reduction in force,” Sanborn said. “How we absorb that is we would prioritize and some things just wouldn’t get done.”
Baldacci’s request for a 10 percent reduction in DIF&W’s total budget again is sparking debate about funding sources. That’s because less than $3 million of the department’s roughly $24 million budget comes from the state. The rest comes from revenues generated by the sales of fishing and hunting licenses, permits and registrations for things such as boats and snowmobiles.
“As I have discussed many times in the past, I want to say again that I do not believe that the calculations of this department’s targets were either correct or fair,” Martin wrote in a letter accompanying his department’s proposed budget cuts.
Martin said a true reduction of 10 percent, based on the amount of General Fund money DIF&W receives, should be $275,536 and $322,643 during the next two budget years, respectively. Instead, the department is being asked to cut $2.8 million and $3.2 million, respectively.
Farmer was unsympathetic to those arguments.
“We need to look at every agency and every department,” Farmer said. “We can’t set aside IF&W when we are cutting services for people at DHHS or for poor people or at the Department of Education.”