ACTION ALERT: TU reacts to SB493: the "Fish Farming Bill"

Earlier this week, a Senate Bill (SB 493) was introduced by Senators Thomas Tiffany and Richard Gudex.  SB 493 would greatly expand the ability to use natural water bodies for fish farming operations.


SB 493 was introduced on January 4, 2016, and was the subject of a public hearing just 24 hours later, in the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining, and Forestry.


SB 493 has been co-sponsored in the Wisconsin Assembly by Representatives Mary Czaja, Cody Horlacher, David Murphy, Adam Jarchow, Thomas Larson, and Janel Brandtjen.  To our knowledge, no Assembly Bill number has yet been assigned, and there is no Assembly committee public hearing scheduled.


Given its timeline, we have had only limited time to review SB 493.  Based on what we have read, however, we have grave concerns, because:

  • SB 493 would greatly expand the use of headwater springs for fish farming operations. Under current law, only freeze-out ponds, pre-existing fish rearing facilities, and permitted water bodies may be used for fish farms.  Under SB 493, however, headwater spring areas could be diverted for aquaculture uses.


Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources ("DNR") notes that it has mapped over 10,800 springs in Wisconsin, and that "expansion of aquaculture use of headwater spring habitats could impact state trout fisheries and stream water temperature and habitat."

  • Under SB 493, fish farms would no longer be required to obtain permits to construct or dredge artificial enlargements of navigable waterways, or to grade on the banks of navigable waterways -- including trout streams and "outstanding and exceptional resource waters."


Wisconsin DNR notes that "construction of aquaculture ponds in these areas have significant potential to create difficulty meeting physical and chemical water quality standards for the waterway, habitat fragmentation, and impacts spawning and fish rearing areas."  DNR further notes that "Unregulated construction of aquaculture ponds on navigable waterways could create conflict between aquaculture business owners and members of the public exercising their right to navigate on navigable waterways."

  • Under SB 493, dams used for aquaculture facilities would be exempted from minimum flow requirements.  Under current law, dams on navigable streams have minimum release standards that they must abide by.  Because of SB 493's exemption, it appears that neither a public notice and comment period will exist regarding diversions, nor will the public have the ability to make challenges.


Wisconsin DNR notes that "this change could have impacts on stretches of streams that could become de-watered," and that resulting lack of flow "could potentially leave some watercourses short of the water needed to remain viable."

  • And there's more.  Under SB 493, fish farms would be moved from operating under standard nonpoint pollution standards to operating under agricultural performance standards.  As a result, it appears that the State of Wisconsin and its taxpayers would be required to pay cost-share amounts to help fish farms employ best management practices.


Wisconsin DNR notes that "By adding aquaculture to the list of activities that make up 'agricultural practices,' the agricultural performance standards and associated cost-sharing requirements under the current statute would also apply to aquaculture facilities."


AND WE COULD GO ON regarding impacts to the Great Lakes Compact, and how SB 493 could impact how Wisconsin employs the Clean Water Act.


Time and again, Wisconsin TU has made clear that our streams, and the angling they support, are good for kids, Veterans, our economy, jobs, our citizens, and our State.


Any gain that fish farming under SB 493 might have is outweighed by the potential negative impacts which might occur to the $2.2 BILLION annual economic impact which angling provides to Wisconsin's economy, the 21,000 jobs angling supports, the 335,000 visitors that come here to fish each year, or the $148 MILLION in annual state and tax revenue which angling helps create (all per a 2013 ASA report).




1.  CALL your State Representative AND your State Senator, and tell them in no uncertain terms that you oppose SB 493 (the "fish farming bill"), and the harm that it would cause to Wisconsin's streams and the incredible economy they support.


2.  E-MAIL you State Representative AND your State Senator, and tell them the same.


3.  Contact as many other members of Wisconsin's Senate and Assembly as possible, and tell them the same.


You can find your legislators' contact information by using the "find my legislators" tool located at the upper right corner of this link:


If you care about Wisconsin's trout streams, then this is truly an "all hands on deck" moment. Please do all that you can to oppose SB 493.


Thank you for all that you do for Wisconsin TU.


NOTE: The Assembly version of this bill has been introduced on Jan. 7.  It's number is AB 640.

I think this is currently in committee with the Sporting, Mining, and Forestry committee; it wouldn't hurt to CC them in on any opposition to this, maybe it can get killed in committee. 

Rep. Cjaza emailed me and stated that TU was consulted over this bill.  I asked her what she meant by her statement.  I await her email reply.

I am against this bill.