Anglers get a reprieve from closing of Willow Beach hatchery

When news broke in December that the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery no longer would raise and stock rainbow trout along the lower Colorado River, it sent a shock wave through the recreational fishing communities in Southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. Anglers experienced disbelief and feelings of betrayal, and community leaders voiced concern about the financial impact on local economies.

That announcement came after the second of two failures in the hatchery’s cold-water intake system resulted in the loss of thousands of trout. Together, the two failures resulted in the loss of more than 60,000 fish and the emergency release of 11,000 more.

At the time, Chris Cantrell, fisheries chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said, “There’s no question this (closure) is going to impact anglers from Willow Beach south to the Bullhead City area. Of course other species remain in Lake Mohave and the Colorado River, but without stocking efforts, rainbow trout will not consistently be available long term.”

It was not long before Cantrell’s prediction proved accurate. By year’s end the Willow Beach shoreline, once crowded with anglers hoping to catch a few fish after the hatchery’s weekly trout plants, remained nearly vacant. Without angling traffic, the Willow Beach store and marina would naturally experience a loss in business revenue. The same is true of fishing-related businesses and the hospitality industry in Bullhead City and Laughlin, where the hatchery released trout in portions of the Colorado River below Davis Dam.

Now it appears that anglers and the businesses affected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to stop rearing rainbow trout are about to get a reprieve, though it remains to be seen how long that will last.

On Friday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced a short-term solution that would provide recreational anglers with trout fishing opportunities this fall at Willow Beach and along the Colorado River near Bullhead City. To do so, the agency will provide approximately 21,000 juvenile rainbow trout to be reared and stocked through the Willow Beach Hatchery.

Arizona officials attributed the decision to a cooperative effort with Mohave County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cantrell described the decision as “a huge win for anglers in Arizona and Mohave County,” and something that will “have a positive impact on all Arizona anglers, particularly from Willow Beach south to the Bullhead City area.” It also will be a significant step for Las Vegas fishermen and Nevada businesses.

The two wildlife agencies and folks from Mohave County say they will continue to work on a long-term solution for recreational trout fishing along the lower Colorado. For that to happen, two things will need to take place. First, repairs undoubtedly will need to be made to the damaged infrastructure at the Willow Beach Hatchery. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will need to recognize once again the economic value of recreational fishing.

According to its own 2011 report, entitled “Net Worth: The Economic value of Fisheries Conservation,” fisheries programs inject more than $3.6 billion into the U.S. economy annually, and “each taxpayer dollar budgeted for the program generates $28 in economic returns.” Not a bad thing for an economy that remains anemic.

It would appear the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Mohave County are on the right track. Hopefully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get on board and stick around for the long term.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at