Alexander says Erwin fish hatchery to remain open
Mar 2, 2012 at 10:48 AM
ERWIN — Proposed funding cuts are once again threatening the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and other national hatcheries across the country, but closure of the state’s federal hatcheries appears to have been at least temporarily thwarted thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget, the USF&WS has requested total appropriations of $1.55 billion, an increase of $72 million compared to the 2012 fiscal year’s enacted budget. The proposed budget, however, calls for a reduction of approximately $3.2 million from the nation fish hatchery systems overall budget, which has been proposed at around $43 million. The USF&W’s fiscal year 2013 budget also proposes the cutting of 21 full-time employees from the national fish hatchery system. The national fish hatchery system currently employees 314 full-time employees.
“I have not seen any plans the Fish and Wildlife Service has to absorb this $3.2 million reduction,” said Erwin National Fish Hatchery Manager John Robinette, “but I don’t really understand how they could absorb that much of a cut without closing some facilities and some people losing their jobs. Maybe they have a plan that they can, but I have not seen that plan or how they plan to absorb that.”
The USF&W’s budget justification states that the Service has worked for many years to recover costs from several agencies for the production of hatchery fish for mitigation. It further states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began reimbursing USF&W for mitigation hatchery production in the eastern U.S. in the 2010 fiscal year, which has allowed the USF&W to reduce the funding it provides to raise hatchery fish for mitigation. In the fiscal year 2012 President’s budget, the Corps requested $3.8 million to fund mitigation fish production, and the USF&W is expecting a similar level of support in the 2013 fiscal year. The budget justification document also states the Bureau of Reclamation has requested an increase of $600,000 to fund its mitigation responsibilities in the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget.
“The Service will continue to work with the Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bureau of Reclamation, to establish equitable reimbursable agreements for the production of hatchery fish for mitigation,” the budget justification states. “Without these agreements, mitigation fish production will be reduced and will be commensurate with the level of funding received. For example, the Service needs to recover $834,000 for mitigation production from the Tennessee Valley Authority and an additional $900,000 for full reimbursement from the Corps. Without that reimbursement, potentially 1,000,000 fish for mitigation will not be produced and potentially 6,000,000 eyed eggs will not be shipped. Outreach and youth activities at the affected hatcheries will be reduced as well.”
However, Alexander has received assurance from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that Tennessee’s national fish hatcheries would remain open until state officials have a chance to attempt to procure this funding.
At a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Alexander asked Salazar for his assurance that Tennesse’s hatcheries would be kept open despite the proposed funding cuts.
“I once noticed that the number of Tennesseans who have hunting and fishing licenses exceeded the number who voted in a recent election, so this is serious business for us,” Alexander said at the hearing. “The Erwin National Fish Hatchery provides eggs for hatcheries all over the country and Dale Hollow produces 60 percent of the trout stocked in Tennessee. In your tight budget, you’re having to cut $3.2 million from mitigation hatcheries, which would close those hatcheries with very serious consequences.”
Alexander said officials are working with the TVA and the Army Corps of Engineers to help share in the funding to keep these hatcheries open. Alexander asked Salazar for his assurance that the hatcheries would remain open until officials have the opportunity to try to secure the joint funding.
“Absolutely, Senator Alexander,” Salazar responded at the hearing. “And I look forward to working with you and TVA and the Army Corps to see how we can keep these hatcheries open. They are, as you say, very important to the anglers of Tennessee and beyond Tennessee, so we’ll be happy to work with you on that.”
The Erwin National Fish Hatchery has been in Unicoi County since 1897. Trout eggs from the hatchery are shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries throughout the country. The hatchery produces around 14 million eggs annually.
According to an economic study previously conducted by Dr. Joseph Charbonneau and Dr. James Caudill, approximately 68,000 U.S. jobs are attributable to the economic contribution of the national fisheries program. The study also states that the total economic contribution of the national fisheries program is $3.6 billion annually and the program has an economic return of $28 for every dollar invested in the program.
This is not the first time the Erwin National Fish Hatchery has faced possible closure. The USF&W’s proposed 2012 fiscal year budget called a $6.3 million reduction in funding of national fish hatchery operations.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said it seems that the hatchery is on the chopping block year after year. He also said he wishes those who are targeting the hatchery in proposed funding cuts could realize the impact its operation has on Unicoi County.
“I hate that it’s an ongoing thing, and it will affect us,” Lynch said.
**** An earlier version of this story appears below ****
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says the Erwin National Fish Hatchery will remain open thanks to a funding commitment from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Alexander asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for his assurance that Tennessee’s hatcheries would be kept open despite the Interior Department’s budget cut of $3.2 million from mitigation hatcheries.
“I once noticed that the number of Tennesseans who have hunting and fishing licenses exceeded the number who voted in a recent election, so this is serious business for us," Alexander said in the hearing. "The Erwin National Fish Hatchery provides eggs for hatcheries all over the country and Dale Hollow produces 60 percent of the trout stocked in Tennessee.
"In your tight budget, you’re having to cut $3.2 million from mitigation hatcheries, which would close those hatcheries, with very serious consequences for Americans.
“We are working with the Tennessee Valley Authority and with the Army Corps of Engineers to help share in the funding of those hatcheries so that you’ll be able to keep them open. My question is: Can you assure me the hatcheries won’t close until we have an opportunity to try to secure joint funding for them?”
Salazar responded: “Absolutely, Senator Alexander. And I look forward to working with you and TVA and the Army Corps to see how we can keep these hatcheries open. They are, as you say, very important to the anglers of Tennessee and beyond Tennessee, so we’ll be happy to work with you on that.”
Along with the Erwin hatchery, the commitment applies to the fish hatchery at Dale Hollow.
“Secretary Salazar’s commitment today to keep these Tennessee hatcheries open until we secure joint funding for them shows just how big and vital a role they play in Tennessee’s and the country’s economies," Alexander said in a news release.