July 24, 2014

Fish Hatchery Protection Act Would Prevent Closures without Congressional Approval

On July 8, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) member Representative Paul Gosar introduced H.R. 5026, 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), Eric “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. Willow Beach, located on the Colorado River, will still be used exclusively to produce two endangered fish, the bonytail chub and razorback sucker.

Legislators and anglers alike cited concerns about the effect that ceasing rainbow trout production at Willow Beach will have on both the state’s recreational fishing opportunities and economy. In 2011 alone, Arizona’s nearly 537,000 recreational anglers generated over $893 million in retail sales in the state, including critical dollars to fund fish habitat and conservation projects through the sale of licenses and fishing tackle. All told, America’s National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) distributes over 140 million fish and 120 million eggs to fisheries each year, provides 68,000 jobs and a $28 return on investment for every dollar invested in the program.

Part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) funding is prioritized to prevent the closures of fish hatcheries, an issue that the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and other organizations from the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC) have recently worked on. On July 10, the SFBPC sent a letter to Secretary Sally Jewell on the topic of fish hatcheries, asking to “keep these recreational propagation programs operating in FY ’15 as required by the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934.” The letter also suggests that the Secretary work with the SFBPC to develop new legislation for the FWS Fisheries Program that will ensure the long-term viability of the National Fish Hatchery System.

The concern over fish hatchery closures has been formally addressed on several occasions last year as well. On September 11, 2013, a letter was sent to the Secretary of Interior from nine Members of Congress; on February 24, another letter to the Secretary expressed concerns in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico from seven Members of Congress; and on March 4, seven members of the Western Senate Caucus sent a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe on the issue of fish hatcheries.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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