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French Lake fishery coming to an end

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is closing a 1970s-era fish hatchery because of failing infrastructure and excessive energy consumption.

The French River Hatchery, located on Lake Superior north of Duluth, needs $8 million in capital investment to address failing equipment. It also consumes 10 percent of the energy used by the entire agency statewide.

Fisheries Chief Don Pereira said energy inefficiency and costly repairs make it necessary to close the hatchery, but the remaining fish production will continue elsewhere.

"We remain strongly committed to providing great fishing opportunities in Lake Superior and along the North Shore," Pereira said. "To provide the best fishing we can for anglers, we need to be strategic about how we use energy, and we're confident we can adjust to meet angler needs with our remaining four hatcheries."

Pereira said production of Kamloops trout, which are raised at the French River hatchery and stocked in Lake Superior, will be moved to another hatchery. The Kamloops trout is a domesticated strain of rainbow trout that cannot reproduce in the lake.

"Kamloops provide a popular nearshore fishery for Lake Superior anglers," Pereira said. "We will continue to produce Kamloops at another nearby hatchery until an agreed-upon strategy is reached with the Lake Superior Advisory Group, a group of anglers who work with the DNR on Lake Superior issues."

Under current French River operations, each Kamloop an angler keeps costs approximately $160 to produce. The hatchery is inefficient because it uses Lake Superior's cold water and must heat the water to a temperature at which fish can be raised, a process that is cheaper elsewhere.

The French River hatchery was built in the 1970s to aid in the restoration of lake trout in Lake Superior, which at the time depended heavily on stocked fish. Today, wild lake trout have staged a healthy recovery in Lake Superior, which means the agency no longer needs to stock the fish.

The hatchery also produced steelhead trout, which also have self-supporting wild populations now and each year make runs up North Shore streams.

The advisory group most recently met to give input about the soon-to-be finalized Lake Superior management plan. Pereira said closure of the French River hatchery is consistent with that plan. More information on the plan can be found at www.mndnr.gov/lakesuperior.

The DNR's four hatcheries produce trout that are stocked in a variety of lakes throughout the state, with an inland water summer season that closed Oct. 31 and a winter season that opens in mid-January. A list of trout lakes can be found on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/trout_lakes/list.html

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