The US House Natural Resources Committee yesterday approve a bill by U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar to put a halt to the closure of any more federally operated fish hatcheries without specific permission from Congress.
H.R. 5026, the Fish Hatchery Protection Act, came in response to a federal decision to stopped producing trout in a fish hatchery on the Colorado River in favor of producing several endangered native fish the federal government hopes to restore in several streams. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to shift strategies in operating hatcheries that could lead to additional closures.
However, H.R. 5026 would bar any such change in the use of the hatcheries without an act of Congress.
Gosar, whose District 4 includes most of the Colorado River in Arizona as well as all of Northern Gila County, commented, “I am pleased to see that my colleagues on the Committee agree that only Congress should authorize the termination of fish hatchery facilities or programs. It is clear that the US Fish and Wildilfe Service have acted poorly by not offering a public comment period and did not consider job losses or associated economic impact before terminating important recreational fishing programs. Even Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife service, Steve Guertin, admitted their organization failed to recognize the negative consequences of their flawed actions. This continues a disturbing trend of big government, bureaucratic decisions that harm local communities and I am proud that my legislation will move forward
In November 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service changed the priorities for the five different propagation program categories and announced its intent to close propagation programs and possibly hatcheries throughout the nation in fiscal year 2015.
The immediate trigger for the legislation was the USFWS decision in December of 2013 to stop growing trout in the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery to focus on growing bonytail chub and razorback suckers, endangered fish the hatchery has been growing since 1973. The Wildlife Service in a Nov. 2013 report also cited budget woes as a reason to shut down some non-native fish hatcheries in order to maintain the hatchery programs attempting to restore native species. Virtually all of the native fish species in Arizona are endangered or threatened thanks to the impact of dams, water diversions and destruction of riparian areas statewide.
However, critics of the move said the decision to stop producing some 150,000 rainbow trout annually at the Willow Beach hatchery could harm the recreational fishing industry on the Colorado River.
Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius testified before the committee that fishing in her county supports 1,700 jobs and has an economic impact of $75 million.
Statewide, an Arizona Game and Fish study put the economic impact of fishing at nearly $1 billion annually. Game and Fish operates its own network of fish hatcheries supported by the sales of fishing licenses, including the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.
The network of federal hatcheries has declined from 136 to about 70, most of them averaging about 70 years old. The federal
By the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own estimates, the National Fish Hatchery System returns $28 to the national economy for every dollar spent and $3.6 billion to our economy annually.
The federal hatcheries stock 140 million fish annually.
The bill must still pass through the House and the Senate. Only about 11 percent of bills get past committee and about 3 percent become law.