I am writing on behalf of the Maine chapter of Native Fish Coalition regarding the recent proposal by the state to allocate $20 million from the American Rescue Plan to update and modernize Maine’s fish hatcheries.

Native Fish Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots, donor-funded, all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the conservation, preservation and restoration of wild native fish. Founded in Maine, we also have chapters in Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia with members, partners, volunteers, supporters and followers.

When it was announced that Maine’s hatchery system will receive $20 million from the American Rescue Plan, it was stated: “At the core of Maine’s fisheries is Maine’s state hatchery system.” This is a gross misrepresentation of what Maine’s fisheries are, what makes Maine unique and why people come to Maine to fish.

The true core of Maine’s fisheries are our unique wild native fish, including our over 580 legally designated State Heritage Waters, representing the largest inventory of legally protected wild native salmonid waters in the nation.

Maine is home to the last Atlantic salmon in the United States, a federally endangered species that both the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Department of Marine Resources have refused to list as endangered, or even threatened, at the state level.

Maine is also home to the last Arctic char in the contiguous United States, as well as 90 percent or more of the remaining lake, pond, river and sea-run brook trout. Our official state fish, landlocked salmon, are found in only a few waters outside of Maine. Add to this native lake trout, lake whitefish, cusk and striped bass, and Maine has one of the most robust and diverse wild native fisheries in the East.

Maine’s hatchery system is a huge drain on the state’s fisheries and wildlife management budget, a distraction from wild native fish management, a source of pollution and one of the primary drivers behind Maine’s nonnative fish introductions. Maine’s trout hatcheries are also a form of forced subsidy, where hunters, warm-water anglers and wild trout anglers who do not utilize the resource are forced to pay for it. And many anglers who do take advantage of this resource consume more money in stocked fish than their license pays for.

IF&W operates eight hatcheries producing a million fish per year. Their web page states that they stock hatchery fish first and foremost “to maintain healthy numbers of native fish.” This is contrary to widely accepted science, as stocked fish compete with wild fish for food and space, prey directly on them and can introduce disease, parasites and viruses. Stocked fish can also swamp the genetics of wild fish, and result in the establishment of self-sustaining nonnative fish populations.

The Native Fish Coalition recognizes the great amount of financial, human and infrastructure resources required to maintain Maine’s hatchery system. As a wild native fish conservation organization, we do not believe that the state should be as reliant on stocking as it is. We believe the hatchery model is not sustainable over the long haul, and putting money into it that could be better used elsewhere is not in our best interest. The American Rescue Plan funds could be used much more effectively somewhere other than in support of the propagation of hatchery-raised fish for recreational angling.

We trust that this information and concern will help inform future decisions as we continue to maintain and elevate our mutual desires to enhance, preserve and restore Maine’s special place as the last bastion of wild native brook trout, Arctic char and Atlantic salmon in the nation.


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