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Roe goes to bat for hatchery at D.C. hearing

March 5th, 2014 9:13 pm by Brad Hicks

Roe goes to bat for hatchery at D.C. hearing

Congressman Phil Roe

Congressman Phil Roe stated his case Wednesday on the importance of maintaining the operations of facilities within the National Fish Hatchery System, particularly those of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, at a Wednesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.

The subcommittee met in Washington, D.C., to hold an oversight hearing on the report “National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the report in November. In it the agency did not recommend the closure of any national hatchery facilities this year, but the report stated hatchery closures may be necessary in the 2015 federal fiscal year due to increasing operational costs and fiscal uncertainty with the National Fish Hatchery System.

“We are putting a Band-Aid on the hatchery,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe stated when the report was released. “Unless we can find a way to cover costs in a more sustainable fashion, the system will eventually need surgery. The challenges we are facing are not new; however, we have reached the point where — in the absence of long-term solutions — we will have no option but to make tough choices to bring expenses in line with actual revenues.”

While Roe, R-1st, said Wednesday that he was pleased to hear that there would be no hatchery closures this year, he is “troubled” by the threat of possible closures in the 2015 fiscal year.

“This topic is very important to my district, as we are proud to host the Erwin National Fish Hatchery in Unicoi County,” Roe testified Wednesday. “The Erwin hatchery was established in 1894 and is an important part of the National Broodstock Program. Erwin serves as the primary broodstock facility for three strains of rainbow trout and produces between 13 and 17 million disease-free eggs annually. These eggs are then shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries to support their fishery management efforts. Additionally, the Erwin hatchery provides eggs to research centers, classrooms and universities around the country.”

The Erwin hatchery, along with other facilities in the national hatchery system, have faced the threat of closure in recent years. Last year, some legislators expressed concern after receiving word the Fish and Wildlife Service was preparing a propagation report studying national fish hatcheries, as they feared the report would recommend closing the facilities.

Prior to the report’s release, several lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, submitted a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that any actions recommended in the report be delayed until legislators and the public had ample time to review the report.

In January, President Barack Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. Included in this bill was more than $50 million for national fish hatchery operations. This secured national hatchery operations funding for 2014.

“The omnibus funding bill included important funding for these programs and, thanks to the leadership of Sen. Lamar Alexander, includes a stipulation that none of the funding included in the Department of Interior’s budget can be used to close fish hatcheries,” Roe said. “There is also a provision in the Army Corps of Engineers budget that includes $4.7 million to reimburse the Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to operate the Erwin and Dale Hollow facilities in Tennessee, as well as more than $46 million to continue operations at every hatchery in the system as requested. The Tennessee Valley Authority has also worked with Fish and Wildlife to assist in providing the funds needed to continue hatchery operations.

“While I am hopeful that FWS can obtain reimbursable agreements with the various agencies that benefit downstream from the Erwin fish hatcheries, I do not believe it would be prudent to eliminate funding for this program within the FWS until these agreements are signed. Fishing benefits a whole host of businesses and provides tourism dollars to many regions, so closure of fish hatcheries would be devastating to the economy in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast region.”

Roe also discussed the economic impact the Erwin hatchery has on the region at Wednesday’s hearing. He said the hatchery and the trout stocking that results from its efforts account for around 3,500 jobs and nearly $90 million in wage and salary income across the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region. He also said each tax dollar spent for trout production at hatcheries in the region leads to an economic output of $73. Roe said a program that realizes this type of return should be “protected and prioritized.”

“I hope Fish and Wildlife will continue to pursue partnerships with stakeholders and focus on creative ways to keep these programs up and running, rather than continuing with threats of closure each fiscal year,” Roe said.

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