Published April 13, 2012, 11:03 AM

Meeting set to discuss Brule Hatchery

The fate of the Brule Hatchery will be the subject of a public meeting in Brule on April 26. The meeting, beginning at 7 p.m., will be held at the Brule Town Hall (5820 S. Maple Street). Dennis Smet, chair of the Brule Town Board, said he hopes for a strong turnout.

By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram

The fate of the Brule Hatchery will be the subject of a public meeting in Brule on April 26.

The meeting, beginning at 7 p.m., will be held at the Brule Town Hall (5820 S. Maple Street). Dennis Smet, chair of the Brule Town Board, said he hopes for a strong turnout.

“It’s a meeting to share information and to come up with possible alternatives,” Smet said.

The Brule fish rearing station, known locally as the Brule Hatchery, is among the Department of Natural Resources facilities being considered for closure in the near future. News of the potential closure first surfaced in January, but the station will remain open at least for the current season.

“For this year, we are going to continue to rear fish,” said John Gozdzialski, DNR northern regional director. “This year we are not going to be closing anything.”

The DNR will be forced to make cuts eventually to deal with budget constraints. When options are considered this summer, and the Brule fish rearing station will be part of the discussion.

“Budgets are tight, and we’re looking at how we can be the most effective with our resources,” Gozdzialski said. “It’s a big money operation, and when money is tight we have to be good stewards.”

The DNR recently completed an engineering study to determine the viability of the Brule fish rearing station. The study looked at the site’s location and water source, upgrades needed to bring the station up to standards and opportunities to expand the facility.

“We looked at it quite comprehensively,” Gozdzialski said.

The analysis showed a several items not in the Brule Hatchery’s favor. The station’s proximity to Lake Superior is a concern because of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS). The disease has been detected in Lake Superior, and because the Brule rearing station is not a contained system, the fish raised in Brule can only be released in waters already testing positive for VHS.

That doesn’t leave the DNR with many options for Brule-raised fish besides Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, Smet said.

Another issue at the Brule rearing station is the age of the facility. The Brule Hatchery was built in 1927, and Gozdzialski said many upgrades — an estimated $10.5 million worth — would be needed to bring it up to standards.

“We have not made any final decisions yet,” Gozdzialski said.

Much will depend on what the DNR hears from the community, Gozdzialski said, and no action will be taken without extensive discussion beforehand.

“We’d certainly hate to lose any more businesses,” Smet said. “It may be only two and a half jobs, but that’s pretty big to a small community like this.”

Smet said the Brule Hatchery is an important tourist attraction for the Brule area. It also aided in the rehabilitation of the steelhead population of the Brule River, where fish were stocked until 2001.

Steelhead fishing on the Brule is vital to the local economy, Smet said, and some residents worry what will happen if the steelhead population drops and the Hatchery is closed.

Those worries only increased after reports of low steelhead numbers in the fall. Smet said numbers for the fall run were down by more than 50 percent, and there is nervousness now in the Brule community.

“We don’t know why those numbers were down last fall,” Smet said.

This year’s count for the fall run was 2,933, the lowest since 1996. In 2010 the fall steelhead run totaled 6,488 and in 2009 it was 8,891.

Final action on the Brule Hatchery will not be taken at the April 26 meeting. Gozdzialski said the purpose of the meeting is to explain the DNR’s position and to present facts, as well as to gather feedback from the community.

Two DNR officials from Madison will be in attendance on April 26 — Mike Staggs, DNR fisheries director, and Al Kaas, fish culture section chief.

“That part is encouraging, the fact that they’re willing to come up here,” Smet said.

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