A System In Peril

blogpic-gordon_150x175by Gordon Robertson, Vice President for the American Sportfishing Association

I recently wrote about concerns that the National Fish Hatchery system might suffer a number of hatchery closures.  I said then of the rumors that “To be sure there is lots of smoke so I am inclined to believe there is somewhere a fire. “  We now understand from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that no closures will occur in fiscal year 2014 (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014). The long awaited review, “National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report” has finally been released. So there was smoke and for the moment the fire is doused. 

 This leaves the question of how to move forward.  The FWS tells me that an open and transparent discussion will now begin on how and what level the national fish hatchery system will operate.  We know that the system faces financial challenges and that many hatcheries are in poor condition.  Apparently, the Department of Interior and the FWS is preparing to invite the sportfishing community to the table to discuss how the national fish hatchery system challenge is met and find a solution that continues to produce fish for anglers across the Nation in a cost effective way.  A way that doesn’t reduce the fishing opportunity the system supports. 

What can you as an angler do?  Please review the Hatchery Report and when the time comes we encourage you to comment on the report. 

As always, we’ll keep you posted and please be ready to take action!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

As I write this there is uncertainty about the future of the national fish hatchery system operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). To be sure there is lots of smoke so I am inclined to believe there is somewhere a fire. For sometime now I have been getting messages about imminent closures but there is no concrete information, except that the FWS is preparing to release its review of the system. The fisheries program is the oldest in the FWS and maybe the oldest natural resource program in the federal government. The hatchery system itself is well over a century old – established in 1871.

Hatchery closures and threats of hatchery closures are nothing new. The last big closure was around 1990 and at that time many states took over federal hatcheries because the state needed the fish production to maintain many of their recreational fisheries. Certainly, today’s federal hatchery system has a close connection to the states and supplying you fishing opportunity. In 2000 an exhaustive independent study was done of the hatchery system and was aptly titled “Saving a System in Peril” – thus the title of this commentary. The report not only listed recommendations for moving forward, it also explained the importance of the national fish hatchery system to the Nation, to recreation and to anglers. It outlined the operation of the system and how it is truly a system of facilities that work in coordinated fashion to bring fish to streams and lakes through technology centers, fish health centers and brood stock hatcheries. It is a good common sense report for continuing to evaluate the system and how to move forward. I certainly don’t believe its time has passed. It is a worthy document for the FWS leadership to review today as they complete the current self-review.

Today’s challenges are greater than 2000 and primarily on the budget front. To be sure the hatchery system is physically in poor condition with a significant maintenance backlog that was documented in excess of $300 million when the 2000 report was released. The sportfishing community has been waiting for months for the FWS to release its new hatchery self-evaluation that it has been working on for a year. I fear that its release will now be accompanied by a list of hatcheries slated for closing and yet another chapter in the diminishment of sportfishing for the Nation. When the review is released it needs to become an outreach document and a tool with which we can work with Congress and the FWS to strengthen the hatchery system and find solutions to its challenges instead of a fiat to reduce the number of hatcheries in the system because it is the easy thing to do.

To be sure today’s budget picture is bleak but the FWS and Congress have created the hatchery system problems as the maintenance backlog has grown and the fish hatchery budget has systematically eroded. In this coming budget year the national fish hatchery program will receive a $12 million cut.

I don’t know exactly what the next 30 days will hold for the system, its employees and anglers across the Nation, but I can tell you that challenges abound and it will take a united voice of anglers through www.KeepAmericaFishing.org to support a balanced system that provides jobs, economic output and returns almost three dollars to the federal government for every dollar invested. This is not to mention the enjoyable days you and I spend recreational fishing with our family and friends. Let’s be ready to speak out.