Bill to save fish hatcheries moving through process


“Is it possible that sometime in the near future I might be able to experience happiness again? You have no idea the level of joy this would bring me.”

That question was posed in an email by reader Jason Young following my July 17 column about the Fish Hatchery Protection Act (HR 5026) introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. The impetus for the bill’s creation was the December 2013 announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery would no longer raise and release rainbow trout and that other federal hatcheries could follow suit.

While the Fish Hatchery Protection Act is enough to give America’s anglers hope for the future, Young and other fishermen will probably have to wait a while to get his answer. The legislative process is generally slow moving. However, action taken July 30 by the House Natural Resources Committee has him one step closer to that answer. The committee voted to move Gosar’s legislation to the House floor.

On July 23, Arizona Game &Fish Commission chairman Robert Mansell testified before the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs. During his testimony, Mansell affirmed the Arizona Game &Fish Commission’s strong support for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, whose financial backbone “is the hunter and angler who pay the freight for wildlife conservation through their license dollars and federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment.”

Mansell also pointed out that his concern about the direction being taken by the FWS in regards to the National Fish Hatchery System included the potential impact on states and anglers well beyond Arizona’s boundaries.

“The commission has a vested interest in the future of the National Fish Hatchery System and what changes to that system could mean to our fisheries, recreational opportunities and state hatchery systems,” Mansell said. “States, particularly in the West, have had a long-standing relationship with the National Fish Hatchery System. The states rely on the production of federally cultured brood fish and sport fish to meet critical fisheries management and recreational demands. ... This is not only important to Arizona and the nation’s economy but is vital to many of the state hatchery systems across the nation.”

Also testifying at the subcommittee hearing was Steve Guertin, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service who spoke in opposition to the Fish Hatchery Protection Act.

“The Department opposes this legislation because it would jeopardize our ability to fulfill our ongoing legal obligations, respond to new and constantly evolving environmental challenges, fulfill the expectations of our federal, tribal, state and local partners, and cost-effectively manage the National Fish Hatchery System within an already strained federal budget,” Guertin said.

Guertin explained that as a result of those fiscal challenges, the FWS commissioned a team of experts to conduct “a comprehensive review of the 70 active propagation hatcheries” and “position hatcheries to meet national aquatic resource conservation needs, operate hatcheries consistent with available funding and without having to borrow from other accounts, identify the highest priority propagation programs, and make informed management decisions under a range of potential budget scenarios.”

Their findings and recommendations were published in the “National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report” and place propagation of sport fish on the lowest rung of the priority ladder, making it an easy mark for the budgetary chopping block. Mansell testified that the Arizona Game &Fish Commission didn’t become aware of plans to shut down sport fish production at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery until an emergency at the facility resulted in an estimated loss of 40,000 rainbow trout.

“While a small operation, Willow Beach served as ground zero for many states in discovering the Services ‘new priorities’ established under this report,” Mansell said. “The states long-standing relationship with the National Fish Hatchery System is in peril. Cessation of sport fish production at federal hatcheries across the West will result in loss of a successful economic driver, loss of recreational opportunities, and reduced ability to get youth and the public outdoors.”

Jason, keep your fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in reading transcripts of both testimonies can find them online at http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=387995.

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 intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.