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Vt. didymo fears send salmon to native tribes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. didymo fears send salmon to native tribes

Bethel, Vermont - November 15, 2011

The adult salmon that have called the national hatchery in Bethel home for the last 4-5 years are impressive fish, some nearly 3-feet long. But during Irene, their world was turned upside down.

"Essentially when Irene came through here, it pretty much flooded the whole facility. I mean everything was just about underwater," explained Ken Gillette, the hatchery manager.

Tens of thousands of fish were killed. And for the ones that survived, there is a new concern.

"The potential is there that didymo could have been in that water supply and infiltrated the whole facility as well as what is in the aquifer itself," Gillette said.

Didymo-- also called rock snot-- is an invasive algae that chokes out native plants in rivers, leaving nothing for fish to feed on. It's already been found in the nearby White River and scientists say it can spread to other waterways very easily. Because of that, the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission voted not to stock the lower Great Lakes or others waterways with the salmon from the Bethel hatchery-- 7,000-8,000 will be killed and donated to Native American tribes in the Northeast for food.

"It's an issue that if you stock them somewhere where there is no didymo, it could be a risk. It may be small, it may be more than that, but it could seed that area," Gillette said.

Younger fish have already been released back into the White River because officials say didymo is already there so there is no risk on contamination. Tests are underway to see if the adult trout at the hatchery intended for lakes will meet the same fate as the salmon. Initial results have come back negative.

Regardless of the test results, this entire facility will have to be decontaminated. Officials say that is likely to happen sometime this winter and it is just another lasting effect of Tropical Storm Irene.

Hatchery officials say that the environmental effects from not stocking the lakes would be minimal. They say it would take several years of not stocking before there was a significant impact.

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