Based on regular weekly dispatches from SI bureaus and special correspondents in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and overseas; and on reports from fish and game commissions of the 48 states and Alaska
Louis A. Wehle, a wealthy upstate brewer and confessed amateur biologist, who was appointed Conservation Commissioner of New York State by Governor Harriman in December 1954, has often jolted technicians with his unorthodox views on wildlife and conservation management. Last week Commissioner Wehle delivered his latest jolt in an announcement that he intended to build, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, a $5 million, push-button-controlled, nuclear-powered trout hatchery.
According to Mr. Wehle he studied the problems of hatchery economics for some time and finally concluded that the cost to New York of $1.47 per pound of stocked fish was far too high, that it could be cut drastically.
The proposed hatchery to be preceded by a $150,000 pilot plant is a whale of a dream indeed. Tentatively scheduled for construction on a site below Long Sault Dam near Massena, optimum water temperatures will be maintained by the waste heat of a nuclear reactor. Each tank and pool will be filled or emptied automatically. When stocking from the air is feasible (presumably in lakes and ponds but not streams), trout will be drugged, packed in ice with one gill protruding (a method of eliminating tank trucks and aerating machinery which has been successfully used by other states when stocking by airplane) and flown to their destination from a landing strip next to the hatchery.
Although the plans for Mr. Wehle's vision are still on the drawing board, he is confident that its realization will produce bigger trout at less cost and enable New York to eliminate those hatcheries which he describes as still in the horse and buggy days. Just how the big operation will chop New York's present $1.47 cost per pound of stocked trout all the way to his own estimate of 50�, Wehle is not sure.
It may be that any cut in costs of raising trout to plantable size could be more than offset by vastly increased expenditure for distribution since many of New York's present 22 hatcheries are on or close to a major stream.
This week Mr. Wehle's deputy, Justin T. Mahoney, will meet with federal officials in an effort to pry loose government funds for the project and the commissioner rightly or wrongly believes they will be forthcoming.
No qualified fisheries expert would comment this week on Mr. Wehle's vision. Should their reticence reflect an opposition developing in the state legislature and elsewhere, New York State is not yet about to be endowed with the world's first atomic trout hatchery.
If the project lives up to Mr. Wehle's predictions he will be remembered for a significant contribution to fisheries management. If it does not, he will have supplied fresh ammunition to those who believe untrained political appointees are more curse than boon to the cause of wildlife and conservation.