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Supervisors call for an end to fish wars

February 12, 2013

 

There’s been something of a low-grade battle going on for years at Conway Ranch—a battle over fish, of all things.

It’s a battle over who pays to raise the fish that are being raised out there, and who doesn’t, over who is responsible when things go wrong, and who isn’t.

A private fish-rearing group, the Inland Aquaculture Group, started years ago by aquaculturist Tim Alpers (Alpers divested himself of all ties to the for-profit group and is now a Mono County Supervisor) has filed a claim against the county (the county owns the ranch) for damages totaling more than $1 million dollars, according to a recent interview with county officials.

A nonprofit group, the Conway Ranch Foundation, is struggling to make ends meet as it tries to provide access to the ranch for the public for fishing, float tube fishing, kid’s fishing and more, but a series of confusing regulations have made it hard to know what’s allowed at the ranch, according to foundation officials.

What was once a dream to raise enough of the famed Alpers Trout on the ranch to eventually sustain Mono County—and make a profit selling the trout to other entities in the process—has turned into something of a nightmare.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Mono County Supervisors Tim Fesko and Tim Alpers made an impassioned plea to change that.

“The previous board (some of them) decided fishing was a dying industry,” said Alpers. “I don’t believe this. We need to work this out. We need to free Conway Ranch to meet its potential. It’s a gorgeous piece of property most counties would give anything to have. The infrastructure is there and it’s solid. It can be done.”

“I agree,” said Fesko, who is taking on some of the Conway Ranch issues, even though Conway is in Alpers district. (This occured after, Alpers said, that he decided to excuse himself in any discussion dealing specifically with the for-profit IAG organization for a full year from the time he took office.The move was not necesary according to legal counsel, Alpers said, but Alpers decided doing so would avoid even an appearance of a 'conflict of interest' in any issues haveing to do with IAG. Alpers, will, however, be involved in all discussions at the county supervisor level about Conway Ranch and the Conway Ranch foundation). Fesko noted that there has been a breakdown in communications, at the very least, and said he would work with the various stakeholders to begin talking again.He noted there has been a breakdown in communications, at the very least, and said he would work with the various stakeholders to begin talking again.

The issue came up Tuesday when the county’s fisheries commission asked the board for its blessing on an ambitious plan to grow Mono County’s struggling fisheries, with an emphasis on the ranch.

Plagued by state budget cuts and a dysfunctional relationship between the county and the state department of Fish and Wildlife, commission member Steve Marti said the county has been losing ground as a “must visit” fishery for years.

But he said there is a ray of hope—and it’s a big one. For the first time in many years, communication and cooperation between the state and the county is a reality, due to some new blood at the state offices of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s been great,” he said. “They return phone calls, they ask what they can do to help. They are even attending meetings.”

That’s an even better reason to now bring the county’s fisheries into greater focus, said Supervisor Byng Hunt.

The supervisors agreed to begin a series of discussions on fishing and other county recreational opportunities with the intent of prioritizing them, then setting policy in response.

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