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Oconto County plans to reopen fish cleaning station in Oconto, but no timetable for resolution

The opening weekend for fishing in Wisconsin brought joy to people excited to get back on the water.

It also caused headaches for the Oconto County Forest, Parks and Recreation Department, as the fish cleaning station at the North Bayshore boat docked in Oconto repeatedly became clogged.

The station gives fishermen a place to fillet their fish and dispose of the remaining carcasses. However, the inlet became clogged on both Saturday, the opening day of the season, and Sunday.

“We unplugged it and less than twelve hours later it was plugged back in,” said Monty Brink, manager of the department.

The Barracuda III fish cleaning station can be seen at the North Bayshore boat docking in Oconto.  The station was closed on Monday May 6, 2024 due to repeated blockages.

The Barracuda III fish cleaning station can be seen at the boat dock at North Bayshore in Oconto. The station was closed on Monday May 6, 2024 due to repeated blockages.

On Monday they announced that the station would be closed for the rest of the season, but in reality they hope to solve the problem and fishermen can use it again this year. However, they do not have a timeline for reopening.

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They need to figure out if a mechanical problem is the cause of the problem, or if it is user error.

Brink said that because they had to clean 30 to 40 fish carcasses “packed” into the intact gutter, the thought is that the latter plays a role.

“The chute gets clogged because the fishermen don’t read the sign with the directions because the unit has to run before you can put the fish in,” Brink said.

Pressing a green button starts the mill, telling fishermen to enter their fish remains one by one. The machine pulverizes the waste and it flows into an underground tank before the grinder automatically shuts off.

“You should be able to plop your five fish in there, no problem, in the two minutes it’s running,” Brink said.

The station was installed in 2018 and has been clogged before. That led to installing an 8½-by-11-inch board with instructions on how to use it.

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Due to the occasional blockages, that signage was later enlarged to a size of 5 by 6 feet in the hope that more people would see the instructions.

Monty said he plans to see if the company has a technician who can come out and “take it apart and see if there’s a tooth missing on the mill, or if there’s something out of alignment that’s causing the fish cannot be grabbed, or if it is just abuse.”

The province has the largest grinding system offered for the Barracuda fish cleaning stations.

Oconto County Administrator Richard Heath said the station is “a really great service that we provide to the public” and that the county needs to figure out how best to continue it.

“I think it’s a pretty simple system, but we need to make sure it’s safe and usable and that we can stay open for longer than just a few hours at a time at this point,” he said.

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Additionally, the man-hours required to repair the fish cleaning station are taxing the department’s staff.

Heath said it takes a two-person team about four hours each time to clear the blockage. Those are hours that can’t be spent preparing the county’s other parks and recreational facilities ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Heath vows the province will reopen the station “as soon as possible.”

“We need something better so that services can continue and people coming from the bay can have a place to clean their fish and dispose of their property of their … fish carcasses,” he said. “We are currently looking through a number of options and seeing what is best for this situation.”

Contact Kevin Dittman at 920-431-8416 or kdittman@gannett.com.

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FOR MORE OCONTO COUNTY NEWS: Check out our website!

This article originally appeared in Green Bay Press-Gazette: Oconto County plans to reopen North Bayshore fish cleaning station

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