STAR PRAIRIE — Jeff Taylor has to maintain up to 20 state permits at any given time.
As general manager of Star Prairie Trout Farm, he said he must submit meticulously detailed paperwork to the Department of Natural Resources in order to keep Wisconsin's oldest continually operating fish farm in compliance.
Otherwise, penalties from the state can put businesses "in serious trouble," he said.
That's why he lauded a bill signed Friday, June 23, by Gov. Scott Walker at Star Prairie Trout Farm.
"It's a step in the right direction," Taylor said. "That's what we need — more of these steps."
The bill relaxes regulations on Wisconsin's aquaculture industry, which includes modifications to commercial ponds like those at the Star Prairie facility. The legislation, co-authored by Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, also changes access to genetic strains of fish and fish eggs, along with the streamlining of water-use reporting methods.
Fewer regulations on the industry "solidifies" the aquaculture industry into the state's agriculture industry, Stafsholt said.
Fish farm industry members present at the bill signing said the bill could help Wisconsin become more competitive in the global market.
Tim Gollon, owner of Gollon Bait and Fish Farm of Dodgeville, said the legislation scales back some of the expensive permitting that's had a heavy impact on state fish farms.
Now, Wisconsin could double its production in the next five years without seeing a surplus, he said.
"This is helping to level the playing field," Gollon said.
The bill, which took two sessions to pass in the Legislature, saw opposition from environmental groups concerned it could lead to water contamination.
Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, one of two chief authors of the bill along with Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, said those concerns were assuaged for groups like Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited after UW-Stevens Point's aquaponics officials backed the legislation.
"They were more open-minded" this session, Felzkowski said.
Walker said "burdensome" regulation prevailed and that the bill leaves Wisconsin's fish farms poised for growth.
"Aquaculture is like agriculture and agriculture is about an $88 billion impact on the state's economy," he said. "We're just trying to literally and figuratively streamline the process so that it's easier for places like this to serve the high demand."
The governor credited Stafsholt, Felzkowski and Tiffany for working with Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited the DNR and other groups to shore up support for the bill "to get to a point where you still have reasonable regulations but they're not such a burden on the aquaculture community."