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More than fish at stake

Loss of net pens would hurt local economy


Electric City’s fish pen operation is great for fishing in Banks Lake, but it also benefits the area in a different way.

A good fishery in Banks Lake adds greatly to the area economy.

Currently, the volunteer group that raises some 300,000 rainbow trout annually is looking for a new manager of the fish net pen operation. Former manager Carl Russell is retiring after 25 years tending the enterprise of POWER (Promoters of Wildlife and Environmental Resources).

The trout are released from the pens twice a year and, accordingly, the releases have made Banks Lake one of the best fisheries in the state, Russell contends.

Right now the fish pen operation is in jeopardy. Unless a new manager is found, and the volunteers take care of the fish, it could all end.

Gary Norris, owner of H&H Grocery, in Electric City, and just a block away from Banks Lake, said this week that good fishing in the lake certainly helps his business. “I don’t know how much of my business is from fishermen, but it is a good amount,” Norris said.

If the fish pen operation ceased, it would mean that the lake would no longer get the 300,000 rainbow release it now gets. How it would affect fishermen’s response isn’t known, but it would.

Kathy Baty, owner of Grand Coulee Center Lodge Motel, agrees. She laughed when asked how fishermen and a good fishery affects her business.

“It probably accounts for one-third of our annual business,” she stated.

The Batys cater to fishermen, providing parking space for vehicles and their boats, having barbecues handy for fishermen, providing plug-ins so they can recharge motors, and a lot of other things. “We have a lot of repeats because we try to take good care of fishermen,” Baty said.

A good fishery is why POWER took on the fish pens in the first place. And nurturing the rainbow also builds up the other species in the lake, which feed on them when they are small.

“If it’s important to the community, someone needs to step up,” said Russell, 79.

A new manager would have a handful of volunteers, most of them members of POWER, to help keep the fish pen operation going. Russell stated that if a manager isn’t found, he believes the state Fish & Wildlife Department will end the program and take the net pens out. Fish and Wildlife provides the fingerling rainbows for the operation.

A manager is needed to see that the schedule of volunteers is maintained and to see that the feeding and growing operation is handled in such a way that the fish are protected.

Russell says the manager needs to be a volunteer for the operation to remain eligible for grants that fund it.

Jack and Lauretta Madsen own three service stations and mini-marts in the area. When asked about the value of fishermen coming to the area, Jack said, “It’s huge.” The couple owns Jack’s at Four Corners, Coulee View Food & Fuel Exxon in Coulee Dam, and Spring Canyon Exxon in Grand Coulee Heights.

Anglers use the stations to fuel their boat motors and for regular fuel.

In the middle of it all is Coulee Playland.

Owner Hal Rauch operates a campground, boat launch and a tackle store right on Banks Lake.

While he wasn’t available for comment, Lou Nevsimal, who probably knows more about the Banks Lake fishery than anyone, said, “The closing of the fish pens would be devastating.”

He pointed out that the rainbow trout fishing is particularly popular with young anglers and the first thing that comes on in the spring. Walleye have exploded in the lake, and they feed on other fish. Taking the trout out of the mix, the closing of the pens would have a direct effect on the entire fishery, Nevsimal explained.

“It would be devastating to Coulee Playland,” he added.

Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Peggy Nevsimal summed it up: “When people come to the area, everyone benefits. Fishermen are vital to our economy.”

The fish pens play a greater role than just raising fish. Anyone interested in managing or seeking more information about the fish pens can contact Carl Russell at 633-0648.

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