Closing of Willow Beach hatchery hurts businesses

In December 2013, anglers who fish along the lower Colorado River system were surprised to learn the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service had decided to halt the rearing of rainbow trout at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery.

If that decision holds, it will end more than 50 years of trout production and the recreational fishing opportunity it has provided. Beyond the loss of recreational opportunity, however, will be a significant impact on those communities whose economies depend on the anglers who fish in the area.

So concerned are members of the Bullhead City (Ariz.) Council that they voted Feb. 4 to adopt a resolution requesting “that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reconsider the closure of and re-appropriate the needed funding to continue the rainbow trout stocking program at the Willow Beach Hatchery.” Fish plants below Davis Dam have provided significant fishing opportunity that attracts anglers from the tri-state area — Arizona, Nevada and California — and beyond.

In nearby Kingman, the Mohave County (Ariz.) Board of Supervisors is holding a special meeting at 9:30 a.m. today “to receive an informational report and participate in a public discussion” about the hatchery discontinuation. Stewart Jacks, assistant regional director of the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service Southwest Region Fisheries Division, will provide the report. For those of you who are early risers and don’t mind a drive, the meeting will take place in the Mohave County Board of Supervisors auditorium, 700 W. Beale St.

Ironically, while the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service cites financial shortfalls as one of the driving forces behind the Willow Beach closure, and the potential end of recreational fish rearing at multiple hatcheries across the country, a report prepared by that agency in the fall of 2011 touts the economic value of its fisheries programs. Entitled “Net Worth: The Economic Value of Fisheries Conservation,” the report states that fisheries programs inject more than $3.6 billion into the U.S. economy annually.

“A company with $3.6 billion in annual profits would rank No. 41 on the Fortune 500 List of America’s Most Profitable Corporations. That’s just behind retailer CVS Pharmacies and Verizon, but ahead of the grocery brand Kraft,” wrote Bryan Arroyo, assistant director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation, in the report’s introduction.

“Money changing hands translates to industry; $903 million in industrial output results from angling for fish originating in the National Fish Hatchery System. ... Think about it — the total economic contribution of the National Fisheries Program: $3.6 billion annually. That’s $70 million a week — $10 million a day,” Arroyo added.

The report also points out that angling dollars show up in such places as “sporting goods stores, marinas, boat dealerships, guides and outfitter services; bait shops, gas stations, cafes, hotels, wildlife watching tour business and many other enterprises.”

If “each taxpayer dollar budgeted for the program generates $28 in economic returns,” as the report states, perhaps my friend who authored the aforementioned blog post, along with some folks in Washington, D.C., may want to rethink a few things.

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