In a letter to Wisconsin legislative leaders in the both the Assembly and the Senate, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress asked that a hold be placed on AB 640 and SB 493 to allow for further public input.
The Conservation Congress Executive Committee held an emergency meeting Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, to address growing concern about fast track legislative action currently underway that would open up navigable waters to commercial fishing operations. The committee concluded that this proposal should be held in abeyance until a more thorough vetting process has occurred.
“We keep hearing from our constituents that we are moving too fast on opening up our public waters to commercial fish farming operations,” said committee member Joe Weiss of Spooner. “We need to slow this down until the public has a greater opportunity to weigh in.”
The bill expands the category of natural bodies of water that may be used as part of a fish farm. A “natural body of water” as defined in the bill includes: a spring, stream, pond, lake, or wetland that was historically present in a natural state but may have been physically altered over time.
The bill also creates an exemption to the general prohibition on using a natural water body as a fish farm for a person who previously held a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to use a natural water body as a fish farm and who takes no action in the water body other than maintaining the fish farm facility.
The committee cited a number of important issues it claims have not been given enough scrutiny, including the impact on public access if there is a body of water that will no longer be available for other uses. For example, if some sort of impoundment or netting system is involved, will the public then be obliged to portage around the structure or avoid using the water way entirely.
Another issue cited is the release of nutrients that could have a negative impact on downstream resources. “These fish ponds can contain a lot of nutrients that could be a problem,” said Dale Maas of Beaver Dam. He also expressed concern about a private individual claiming public waters as his own. “Could I then go out on Beaver Dam Lake and create a commercial operation and claim it as my own private entity?”
The committee also concluded that the public needs to have more specifics regarding what actual activities could take place, what agency or agencies would be in charge of establishing criteria and who would monitor the commercial operations.