Federal Recreational Fish Hatcheries are on the Chopping Block
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) is responsible for stocking many of our nation’s waters with the fish that anglers enjoy pursuing. Federal hatcheries across the U.S. raise and release millions of recreationally-important species such as rainbow trout to mitigate for the loss of native fisheries due to water development projects. In response to recent cuts in the federal budget, the FWS has proposed an $11 million reduction in NFHS funding, with $6 million coming from the account for operating mitigation hatcheries. If approved, this large reduction will result in the closure of nine hatcheries, seven of which are located in the southeastern U.S., greatly reducing angling opportunity in the region. The impacts of these closures will hit both anglers and local economies hard, as the operations of these hatcheries help support over 3,500 jobs and have an annual economic impact of over $325 million.
The FWS provides millions of hatchery-reared fish to mitigate the impacts of dams and other man-made water projects by agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority. If the FWS does not receive full reimbursement for these efforts, they have proposed stopping operations at these nine hatcheries. If this happens, recreational fishing opportunities, especially in the southeastern U.S., will be severely reduced.
The FWS is planning to direct money from the NFHS budget to alleviate the impact of funding cuts on other FWS programs and provide funding for new initiatives. These programs and new initiatives make few contributions to recreational fisheries. In the recent past, the FWS had sought reimbursement for mitigation hatchery operations. But now, because this reimbursement is unsure, the FWS is proposing to close the hatcheries and redirect any savings out of the Fisheries program. To keep these hatcheries operating, the FWS must either be assured of full reimbursement or restoration of NFHS base funding until reimbursements are negotiated. Unfortunately, neither of these options is likely to happen without Congressional mandate.