National Fish Hatchery System

Summary

The National Fish Hatchery System was established in 1871 to address seriously declining fish populations by building a network of federal hatcheries to propagate fishery resources for future generations of Americans. Since that time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) National Fish Hatchery System has provided millions of sport fish each year for America’s angling public resulting in an astounding economic ripple effect and increased recreational opportunities. In recent years, the Service has threatened hatchery closures citing financial constraints. Legislators at the state and federal level have responded with proposals to bolster the hatchery system and preserve sport fish resources.

Background

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, federal dams were constructed across the country to provide hydropower, drinking water, crop irrigation and for flood control. Many of these dams, and the reservoirs they impounded, had drastic impacts to the tailwaters below, in many cases extirpating native sport fish species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) built mitigation hatcheries (commonly to produce trout and salmon) to replace lost sport fish resources. The cost of the fisheries mitigation below these dams is intended to be off-set by fees paid to the Service by the water authorities that constructed and operate the dams.

In 2000, an independent report entitled “Saving a System in Peril” was released that included suggested recommendations on how to improve the aging and financially strapped hatchery system in addition to highlighting the economic, historical, and cultural significance of the National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS). Among other issues, the report noted a $300 million backlog in needed maintenance that had not been properly addressed. Citing a lack of funding necessary to address this backlog, the USFWS has long used warnings of potential closures to Hatchery System facilities propagating native and non-native fish as a bargaining chip. The Service’s vision for redefining the NFHS’s role in sport fish propagation and potential extent of closures were further outlined in the most recent hatchery report from the Service.

CSF took the lead in developing comments on the report for the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC), and working with the states and the fishing industry to develop short and long-term solutions. Plans to close or curtail sport fish production by the Service remain the immediate concern. In order to ensure this does not happen, CSF is working with Congressional offices and committees to ensure the necessary funding to keep the hatcheries open in 2015. A long-term plan will likely require legislation directing the Service to meet its statutory obligation to continue sport fish propagation as stated in the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934. To that end, CSF is working with the states, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, industry and organizations on the development of that legislation.

Recent Activity

Legislators in Colorado and Arkansas have formally asked for support for national fisheries in their states. Colorado resolution SJR 017, passed by a nearly unanimous vote, urges Congress, the Secretary of the Interior and Service to maintain the Leadville and Hotchkiss National Fish Hatcheries to promote public recreation and scientific research to mitigate the impact of federal water projects. Arkansas SR 16 requests Congress and the Service to develop long-term funding solutions for Arkansas’ national hatcheries “to ensure economic viability” and conservation of natural resources. CSF staff submitted these resolutions and other supporting documents to the House Natural Resource Committee for the recent NFHS hearing record in March 2014.

Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) member Representative Paul Gosar (AZ) introduced H.R. 5026 in 113th Congress, a bill that would protect fish hatcheries from closure. The bill, known as the Fish Hatchery Protection Act, specifically would “prohibit closing or repurposing any propagation fish hatchery or aquatic species propagation program of the Department of the Interior unless such action is expressly authorized by an Act of Congress, and for other purposes.”  Cosponsors of the bill included five other CSC members: Representatives Doug Collins (GA), Rick Crawford (AR), Phil Roe (TN), Kevin Cramer (ND), and Michael Michaud (ME).

The impetus for the bill’s introduction was the halting of hatchery rainbow trout production at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery in Arizona, a facility that has been utilized in the production of hatchery-raised rainbow trout and other species for over 50 years. Due to the USFWS’s change in action, Willow Beach, located on the Colorado River, will still be used exclusively to produce two endangered fish, the bonytail chub and razorback sucker.

Also during the 113th Congress, the National Mitigation Fisheries Coordination Act (H.R. 2261), introduced by CSC member Rick Crawford, would direct the USFWS to impose a charge on water development agencies conducting development projects on federal water resources. Revenues from these charges are then to be allocated towards the operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of USFWS’s fishery facilities and hatcheries. The Act lists applicable facilities in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

CSC member Senator John McCain proposed Senate Amendment 3241 to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 which would require federal water agencies to assist USFWS-operated fish hatcheries. The amendment is based on a Government Accountability Office audit that recommends Congress grant the USFWS authority to collect funds from federal water authorities in order to address hatchery funding shortfalls.

On September 23, 2014, CSF and the Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus hosted a National Fish Hatchery Policy Forum, sponsored by Shimano, Bass Pro Shops and the American Sportfishing Association, which discussed the current concerns in the Service’s direction with the NFHS and specifically the mitigation hatcheries. The purpose of the forum was to educate local business and anglers on the problem and potential legislative solutions. Congressman Rick Crawford was the opening speaker for the event.

The SFBPC sent a letter to Secretary Sally Jewell in October 2014 on the topic of fish hatcheries and the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program strategic plan. SFBPC points out the strategic plan’s “top-down” approach rather than a collaborative effort and focuses too little on sport fish propagation and management. To resolve these issues, SFPBC recommended that the USFWS include all stakeholders in the development of yearly strategic implementation plans. 

CSF, the American Sportfishing Association, and the Bass Angler Sportsmen’s Society submitted a letter in March 2015 to Chairman Ken Calvert, emphasizing the importance of the Service’s fisheries program and the NFHS in providing recreational fishing opportunities, as well as the concern with the shift in agency direction and the need for organic legislation to help guide the agency’s priorities in the future.

CSF will continue to lead the effort to ensure that FWS hatcheries continue to promote sport fish for the American public, both in the near term and for future generations.

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