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Conway Ranch fish hatchery closer to reality

May 16, 2013

 

Agreement paves way to re-purchase section of ranch

Some Eastern Sierra fishing advocates who dream of stocking local waters with big fat trophy trout called “Mono Monsters” got a boost this week, when the Mono County Board of Supervisors agreed to work toward buying a piece of property on the Conway Ranch for just that purpose.

The county agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will allow the county to purchase the property for $113,300 from Caltrans, “if and when the parties are ultimately able to arrive at a mutually acceptable terms.”

Steve Marti, Twin Lakes Resorts owner and Mono County Fisheries  Commissioner, said it was a good step forward, particularly after years of little to no forward movement in terms of increasing trout rearing numbers on the ranch while the county, Caltrans and other agencies talked it out.

“Buying this 75 acres will get some control over this property back,” he said. “We’ve been anxious to move forward. This will allow the ranch to meet its full potential as a fish-rearing facility.”

Attempts to rear fish on the property, including the Alpers Trout brand, have had limited success in the past few years, hampered by Caltrans grant regulations that prohibit building a permanent structure on the property and other problems.

But that is about to change, the county supervisors said.

“I want to say, in just the past few months, we have gone on to pass this through the fisheries commission, Caltrans and other agencies.  We have vetted this through the communities,” said supervisor Tim Alpers,

“It’ been terrific. People who were in opposition, that had their heels dug in, once the facts were laid out, there was a real consensus and we have moved on this fairly quickly.”

The supervisors noted the agreement is not set in stone; either side can back out of it, if the terms are not mutually agreeable. But several supervisors added that the conversations with all involved pointed toward success.

Marti noted that a dramatically improved relationship with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recently gives him strong hope that what once seemed like an impossible dream can become reality.

“It’s the first time they have attended meetings,” he said. “It’s amazing. The top leadership (there have been changes in top department management positions in the past year or so) seems to understand how important fishing is to local economies and that is a big change.”

The 75-acre parcel is under the regulatory rule of Caltrans, which helped the county purchase the big, 1,000-acre-plus ranch almost two decades ago.

However, when a local, private, for-profit aquaculture group moved to create a trophy trout and fish-rearing business on a section of the property several years ago—with the county’s blessing—it became clear that Caltrans grant regulations did not mesh with such an endeavor and the county eventually decided purchasing the property back from Caltrans would be the best option.

The property would be administered in cooperation and under an agreement with the local Eastern Sierra Land Trust after extensive meetings and conversations with local community members, according to county officials.

The supervisors agreed to a 180-day process to hammer out the agreement in detail.

Should all go well, the private company, Inland Aquaculture Group (IAG), which now raises thousands of trout on the property, will finally be allowed to raise far more—and to do what the organization says it has long dreamed of—put a modern, hi-tech and high-volume permanent fish hatchery on the property.

Trophy Alpers Trout and more will be raised on the property, then sold to local and non-local interested parties, IAG stated in previous interviews.

According to Alpers, who sold his share of IAG when he decided to run for county supervisor last year, a strong fish hatchery program on the Conway Ranch has the potential to make Mono County the premier fishing destination in the state.

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