Entrance to Erwin National Fish Hatchery (file photo)
During a late-August visit to the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pledged to continue work to ensure that federal fish hatcheries recently threatened by budget cuts would remain open.
When it came to Alexander's attention that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may now be studying federal hatcheries, which include the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina, for closure, the senator took action to live up to the commitment.
In a Wednesday letter written by Alexander and addressed U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Alexander requests that recommended actions in an internal study completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looking at federal hatcheries be delayed until both lawmakers and the public have had an opportunity to review the study and its findings.
Alexander's letter was signed by other U.S.senators, including Arkansas senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor, and members of Congress, including Congressman Phil Roe, Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia and Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas.
"It has come to our attention that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed an internal propagation hatchery review study that examined allocations for the hatchery program based on several budget scenarios," Alexander wrote. "News of the existence of this study, and the insufficient communication from the Service regarding its intent and goals, have caused a great deal of concern in communities near mitigation hatcheries and along the rivers and streams served by mitigation hatcheries. It is our understanding that this study is soon to be released, along with decisions about hatchery closures. We are gravely concerned that Congress has not been consulted on the matter."
In his letter, Alexander requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant a 60-day review period between the public release of the study, or any organization plan arising from it, and in the initiation of any action, preparation for action, arising from from or recommended by the study or related reorganization plan.
"We believe it is critical that all federal, state, local and private stakeholders be granted this time to both fully evaluate the study and its findings, and to adequately prepare for recommendations that may threaten our local economies," Alexander wrote. "We look forward to reviewing such a plan, discussing its findings and recommendations with our constituents, and providing the Service with valuable feedback."
Alexander has asked Jewell to respond to the request for a 60-day public review period by 5 p.m. Thursday.
In his letter to Jewell, Alexander wrote about the impact that mitigation hatcheries have on the communities impacted by the construction of power-generating and flood control water development projects. He wrote that these hatcheries replace fisheries destroyed by such projects. He also wrote that the economic benefits gained from fisheries, both prior to construction of water development projects and following mitigation, "mean thousands of critically-needed jobs and tens of millions of dollars of irreplaceable economic activity in rural communities."
"These hatcheries provide broodstock that help make trout fishing some of the best in the country," Alexander said in a Wednesday afternoon statement. "The nearly 900,000 Tennesseeans and visitors who buy fishing licenses each year depend upon these hatcheries to replace trout in Tennessee's fisheries."
Earlier this year, Alexander helped broker a deal to keep the Erwin National Fish Hatcheries and other facilities open for at least the next three years after the facilities were threatened by budget cuts. Per this agreement, the Tennessee Valley Authority will provide more than $900,000 a year over the next three years to support federal fish hatchery operations that provide trout stocking programs in reservoirs and tailwaters of a dozen TVA dams in Tennessee in Georgia. This agreement was signed by the TVA, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"If federal locks and dams are going to destroy fish, the the federal government has a responsibility to replace them," Alexander stated. "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."