WisconsinAquaculture.com - Walker visits Star Prairie Trout Farm for bill signing
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Walker visits Star Prairie Trout Farm for bill signing

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By Mike Longaecker on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:40 a.m. Hudson Star Observer

STAR PRAIRIE — Jeff Taylor has to maintain up to 20 state permits at any given time.

As general manager of Star Prairie Trout Farm, he said he must submit meticulously detailed paperwork to the Department of Natural Resources in order to keep Wisconsin's oldest continually operating fish farm in compliance.

Otherwise, penalties from the state can put businesses "in serious trouble," he said.

That's why he lauded a bill signed Friday, June 23, by Gov. Scott Walker at Star Prairie Trout Farm.

"It's a step in the right direction," Taylor said. "That's what we need — more of these steps."

The bill relaxes regulations on Wisconsin's aquaculture industry, which includes modifications to commercial ponds like those at the Star Prairie facility. The legislation, co-authored by Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, also changes access to genetic strains of fish and fish eggs, along with the streamlining of water-use reporting methods.

Fewer regulations on the industry "solidifies" the aquaculture industry into the state's agriculture industry, Stafsholt said.

Fish farm industry members present at the bill signing said the bill could help Wisconsin become more competitive in the global market.

Tim Gollon, owner of Gollon Bait and Fish Farm of Dodgeville, said the legislation scales back some of the expensive permitting that's had a heavy impact on state fish farms.

Now, Wisconsin could double its production in the next five years without seeing a surplus, he said.

"This is helping to level the playing field," Gollon said.

The bill, which took two sessions to pass in the Legislature, saw opposition from environmental groups concerned it could lead to water contamination.

Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, one of two chief authors of the bill along with Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, said those concerns were assuaged for groups like Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited after UW-Stevens Point's aquaponics officials backed the legislation.

"They were more open-minded" this session, Felzkowski said.

Walker said "burdensome" regulation prevailed and that the bill leaves Wisconsin's fish farms poised for growth.

"Aquaculture is like agriculture and agriculture is about an $88 billion impact on the state's economy," he said. "We're just trying to literally and figuratively streamline the process so that it's easier for places like this to serve the high demand."

The governor credited Stafsholt, Felzkowski and Tiffany for working with Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited the DNR and other groups to shore up support for the bill "to get to a point where you still have reasonable regulations but they're not such a burden on the aquaculture community."


New law puts fish farms in field with other ag

posted: June 26. 2017 08:15a CST

by / Sara Bredesen, Regional Editor | sara.bredesen@ecpc.com The Country Today

A bill signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker June 23 at Star Prairie Trout Farm in St. Croix County will finally put the state’s roughly 125 commercial fish farms on the same legal footing as other agriculture enterprises.

AB 160 is a “straightforward, common-sense reform to, and clarification of, some of the regulatory requirements for fish farms in Wisconsin,” said Mike Hahn, the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association’s attorney. “What the bill does is clarify that aquaculture is agriculture and provides similar protections to aquaculture that agriculture enjoys under various statutes.”

Of particular concern was the state’s rule on navigable waters, harbors and navigation. Under that law, agriculture was exempt from permit requirements when dredging or repairing artificial ponds within 500 feet of a navigable waterway, but fish farms were not included in the definition of “agriculture.”

“(Fish farm ponds) are often within 500 feet of a navigable water body, and the way the statute was being interpreted by the (Department of Natural Resources), you basically couldn’t maintain your ponds without having to go get a permit each time,” Hahn said.

Fish farms were also left out of certain wetland permit options that are available to other types of agriculture.

“In one case, it took 13 years to get a new pond at one of our farms to be permitted,” Hahn said. “It imposes a significant regulatory cost if it takes that long for a permit to go through the regulatory process.”

The issue itself has taken a long time to get recognized. As far back as 2007, former WAA President Dave Gollon took the concern to then-Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen for discussion.

“In at least the past five years, no permits have been issued for new commercial farms, nor have there been any permits issued for expansion of existing farms,” Gollon reported to the association’s September quarterly meeting that year. “The trout, perch and bait farmers cannot keep up with demand for their products. We are at a point where the industry will either explode economically or die ... We need to get a legal definition of what aquaculture is and that definition needs to be recognized throughout the state departments.”

Two years ago, a bill sorting out the role of aquaculture in agriculture finally got to the Legislature, only to be withdrawn on the last day of the session over what Hahn called a “misinterpretation” by some legislators.

WAA met with the DNR, legislators and stakeholders like the Wisconsin Wetlands Association and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation to address their concerns and rebuild a bill that was not as broad as the first but would be supported for passage.

The new law cleans up language and clarifies where aquaculture fits into other laws dealing with agriculture, including making sure the aquaculture industry qualifies for various business-development grants or loans available to farmers. AB 160 includes aquaculture in provisions having to do with pollution-discharge permitting, construction or maintenance of roads, and road weight limit exemptions. It also calls on the DNR to review the fish hatchery classification system, standardize DNR fish-stocking rules, and review the DNR and DATCP rules on viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

Hahn said the bill does not settle the issue of sales tax on products sold between fish farms. Current law exempts sales tax on items sold as food or for resale. WAA contends that fish products sold between fish farms meets that standard.

“We are still working with the authors to see if that can be included (in the final rule), or not and pursued separately,” Hahn said.

An important element of AB 160 is that it won’t change environmental controls protecting waters surrounding fish farms.

“No, no, we are still regulated by the DNR. We’re not getting any special favors. There’s no ‘right to pollute,’ ” said Peter Fritsch, WAA president and owner of Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra. “What people have to remember is that we have the most to gain and the most to lose by pollution, so as stewards of the land, we have to be held to the highest standards, and we are.”

Fritsch said the law is nothing earth-shattering and just cleans up language that a lot of people thought had already been done.

“It’s things most people thought we already had the liberty to do,” he said. “I don’t know if there is any other state in the union that has not adopted aquaculture as agriculture. I don’t know if Wisconsin is the last, but the good news (is) we have finally arrived.”

Wisconsin aquaculture is a primary supplier of live bait for fishing, provides stock for game fish, and supplies locally grown fish for restaurants and grocery stores. Fish farming in the state employs about 500 people.

The industry has the potential to grow, Fritsch said, but it will never have the huge impact that other types of agriculture have in Wisconsin. On the other hand, existing and new fish farmers may finally be able to look at the industry as a place to settle instead of leaving as they have in the past.

“We’re going to stay small, but being small is better than being gone,” Fritsch said.


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