The state Department of Environmental Conservation has put its stamp of approval on a proposal that would allow Essex County to sell surplus fish from its fish hatchery.
While hashing out the 2011 county budget late last year, county officials openly discussed shuttering the facility, which annually costs $280,000 to operate and is in need of another $100,000 in renovations.
But seeking to save the facility after local fisherman cried foul, County Chairman Randy Douglas began lobbying DEC to overturn longstanding deed restrictions that barred the county from turning a profit on the fish it raises.
"It looks like it's going to happen," Douglas said Monday.
DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said Monday that DEC has approved the change, provided that the bulk of county fish continue to go to publicly accessible waters.
"DEC is okay if Essex County hatchery sells fish provided the preponderance of the fish reared there are stocked into publicly accessible waters," she said. "To do that, OGS will have to amend the terms of the patent through their office."
The move would allow Essex County to sell surplus fish to private groups for a profit. County officials hope the move lessens the burden of the hatchery's operation on the local tax base.
DEC has forwarded its recommendation to the state Office of General Services, which must give final approval.
Officials said OGS is currently reviewing the proposal.