After Six Years, Hatchery Back At It

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Front Page / Jul. 13, 2017 9:56am EDT

New Missions For Rehabilitated Bethel Facility
By Lisa Campbell


Visitors examine an outdoor fish-rearing pool during the White River National Fish Hatchery’s re-opening ceremony on Friday afternoon. The Bethel hatchery recently completed repairs from Irene damage. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) Visitors examine an outdoor fish-rearing pool during the White River National Fish Hatchery’s re-opening ceremony on Friday afternoon. The Bethel hatchery recently completed repairs from Irene damage. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) The long-awaited reopening of the rehabilitated White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel was celebrated Friday by representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local citizens, Vermont’s congressional delegation, and a healthy helping of news media.

With new missions and a rehabilitated facility, the hatchery is once again open for business after being badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene six years ago. The plant was inundated by the rising waters, which covered the land with the heavy wet silt that was familiar to local residents. The damage was so severe that the hatchery was decommissioned.

The process of digging out and rebuilding has cost $2.3 million. The buildings and outdoor ponds and raceways have been renovated, and are currently running at about 25% of capacity. At Friday’s reopening celebration, Wendi Weber, the regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expressed her thanks to the hatchery staff. Their “dedication and passion” for the hatchery led them to check on the site during the storm, when many of them were experiencing damage to their own homes, she said.


U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy prepares to snap a photo during the re-opening of the federal White River Hatchery Monday in Bethel. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy prepares to snap a photo during the re-opening of the federal White River Hatchery Monday in Bethel. (Herald / Ben DeFlorio) Politicos Give Praise

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who was also present at the dedication in 1984, thanked U.S. F&W staff who worked to stabilize the facility at significant risk to their own personal safety. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, remembering the months following TS Irene, admired the dedication of staff and local residents, working at tasks that seemed insurmountable. Hayley Pero, representing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, read a message thanking everyone for their dedication and hard work.

In 1984, the federal hatchery was dedicated and tasked with supporting the reintroduction of Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River Watershed.

Despite the best efforts of staff, multiple factors, including water quality and river barriers, contributed to the demise of this project, as only a few salmon ever were spotted in the White. The project was discontinued eight months after Irene.

New Missions Ahead

According to Andrew Milliken, a manager for the Fish & Wildlife Service’s northeast region, there are now several new missions for the White River National Fish Hatchery.

First and foremost is to grow and provide landlocked Atlantic salmon for Lake Champlain and tributaries. Native Atlantic salmon disappeared from Lake Champlain in the 1850s, due to the creation of dams, poor water quality, and the effects of logging.

In 1972, New York and Vermont initiated a plan to reintroduce the salmon to Lake Champlain. Despite the introduction of hatchery fish, however, the species did not become self sustaining.

Today, many of the impacting environmental factors are being remedied, including the removal and retrofitting of dams and culverts along the tributaries and addressing the parasitic effects of sea lamprey and the alewife in the Champlain waterways.

Landlocked Salmon

For the first time, in 2016 the Wildlife Service documented the occurrence of naturally-occurring landlocked salmon spawning in the Winooski River, and then this year in the Boquet River on the New York side of the lake. This is exciting news for scientists and fishermen alike, as it bodes well for the re-establishment of what is hoped will become a naturally populating salmon species in Lake Champlain.

In addition, the Bethel hatchery will use lake trout brood stock from Lake Champlain to provide eggs and fingerlings to similar fisheries projects in the lower Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and Lake Champlain will also be able to use this brood stock as a back-up resource for their own projects.

Finally, applied research projects are already underway at the hatchery site. For example, Bill Ardren, senior fish biologist, is researching the effects of magnetic fields on the orientation and homing patterns of sea-run Atlantic salmon. This type of research provides opportunities for partnerships with universities, and other organizations.

With the hatchery back online, the F&W Department is also excited by the possibility of future partnerships with the National Forest Service and Park Service.

According to its website, the White River National Fish Hatchery is open to the public on a limited basis. See www.fws.gov/whiterivernfh/ for questions and contact information.

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