In August, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission honored Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., for his efforts to keep two major federal fish hatcheries open and supplying trout stockings for Tennessee anglers.
Alexander helped broker a deal to keep several federal fish hatcheries open. The hatcheries provide most of the trout that are stocked in numerous Tennessee tailwaters. TVA agreed to provide more than $900,000 per year over the next three years to support federal fish hatchery operations.
However, it seems as if the battle is far from over.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to be quietly going about the business of closing federal fish hatcheries across the country. Reporters with The Outdoor Wire contacted Laury Parramore, FWS Office of Communications, who provided the following statement: "Leadership within the service conducted an extensive review of propagation hatcheries within the NFHS to ensure we are best-positioned to address the agency's highest-priority aquatic resource needs now and into the future. Outcomes from the review are now guiding a decision-making process toward more strategic, priority-driven investments and operating our hatcheries within available funds."
Yesterday, Alexander—along with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Sen. John Boozman, R-Ariz.; and Reps. Rick Crawford, Doug Collins, Tom Cotton, Tim Griffin, Phil Roe and Steve Womack—sent a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, requesting a 60-day delay in the implementation of any recommendations for closure of any national fish hatcheries or other plans so that the public could review them.
"These hatcheries provide broodstock that help make trout fishing in Tennessee some of the best in the country," Alexander said. "The nearly 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who buy fishing licenses each year depend upon these hatcheries to replace trout in Tennessee’s fisheries. If federal locks and dams are going to destroy fish, then the federal government has a responsibility to replace them. That’s why it’s important to make sure Tennessee’s hatcheries remain open. I helped work out a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep the hatcheries producing fish for the next three years, and as part of its national review, I hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take that into account."
Questions began surfacing about the agency's reasons for planning to close these facilities, considering the FWS's fiscal year 2014 budget request and justification, included in President Barack Obama's FY 2014 budget submitted to Congress on Feb. 12. In this document, the agency requested funding these facilities at the same level as in recent years, and no cuts were mentioned.
According to Rick Nehrling, a 38-year veteran of FWS, the 2014 budget showed an operating budget of more than $46.5 million, which meant all hatcheries, including the mitigation hatcheries, were fully funded.
Seems someone in FWS has some explaining to do, and if some members of Congress have anything to say about it, it won't be long.
The heat is on
The current climate in Washington D.C., is heated as both sides of the aisle clash over cutting spending to try to stem the runaway deficits. Both sides agree wasteful spending must be curtailed, but neither will agree that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is a prudent idea.
The 70 federal hatcheries support at least 3,500 jobs and have an annual economic impact of more than $325 million. These facilities lead to major economic advantages for the communities that house them and are a beacon of sound government management. Besides the economic advantages, these provide the means to fulfill Obama's 2012 Great Outdoors Initiative, designed to increase and enhance outdoor recreation.
"It is our understanding that this study is soon to be released, along with decisions about hatchery closures," Alexander and his colleagues said in the letter. "We are gravely concerned that Congress has not been consulted on the matter."
It appears the FWS's plans to quietly eliminate these hatcheries from its overall responsibilities have surfaced—catching the attention of some mighty big fish in Congress, those with the ability to get to the bottom of what's really on the line.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. Etta Pettijohn is a freelance outdoor journalist, providing periodic material for The Outdoor Wire. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the authors, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.