September 26, 2014

Unsure Future for Recreational Fishing in the US Fish and Wildlife Service Hatchery System

On Tuesday, September 23, the Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) hosted a policy forum in Heber Springs, Arkansas, on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) National Fish Hatchery System, discussing its impacts, funding, and future.  The forum was sponsored by Shimano, Bass Pro Shops and the American Sportfishing Association. In the wake of the recently released “Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report” by the USFWS – which repeatedly notes the low priority placed on sport fish or non-native fish propagation efforts – stakeholders have begun to look at potential ways to secure the needed federal funding on a permanent basis for the National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS). 

The NFHS contributes over 13 million angler days and around $900 million in economic impact to the nation, according to an economic study of the hatcheries conducted by the USFWS in 2006. The mitigation component, which provides fish to offset the loss of native fisheries resources caused by the construction of dams and other federal water development projects, is critical to maintaining the world-class trout fisheries in the southeastern United States. In this region, for every dollar spent by the NFHS on trout production, the economic return for the nation can be as high as $95. Yet, the future of the NFHS, and the tremendous economic ripple effect of the mitigation hatcheries, is uncertain.

The forum was kicked off by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus member Congressman Rick Crawford (AR), who has worked on this issue since being elected to Congress in 2010. “What we’re seeing is a move away from mitigation towards a restoration/reclamation sort of policy that has an effect on funding and willingness to engage on mitigation. The folks here and in the Mountain Home/Norfork areas are tense every year and it’s very unsettling when they don’t have that sense of certainty in funding [for the hatcheries]. It becomes an appropriations battle. We shouldn’t have to have this fight every year. ” Congressman Crawford’s bill, the National Fisheries Mitigation Coordination Act (H.R. 2261), was among the long-term solutions discussed during the forum.

Typically, funding discrepancies and the threats of hatchery closures are negotiated through the annual appropriations process. In 2014, the House Committee on Appropriations introduced H.R. 5171, which includes funding for the USFWS. This legislation creates a separate account within the USFWS’s budget specifically for the NFHS and contains specific direction to the Service on how the money should be spent, ensures that the money cannot be used to close or repurpose hatcheries, and requires reporting to Congress on mitigation goals and federal agency reimbursement for mitigation activities. This appropriation language would provide some much needed certainty for communities and anglers across the nation who depend on the mitigation hatcheries.

Throughout Tuesday’s discussion, it was clear that the rest of the nation needs to be made aware of the tremendous benefits, and return on investment, of the NFHS. Moving forward, a strong multi-collaborative strategy involving the states, non-governmental organizations, industry, and anglers is necessary to help secure the success of a permanent legislative fix.

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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