ERWIN — During his career as an OB/GYN, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe had a part in the delivery of likely thousands of children.
Within a few moments of work at the Erwin National Fish Hatchery on Wednesday morning, Roe helped ensure that thousands of rainbow trout will populate lakes and streams across the country in the future.
"I saw some awesome looking fish today," Roe said. "It made me want to get this necktie off and go to the river, I can tell you that."
Roe visited the Erwin National Fish Hatchery not only to get his hands dirty by stripping fish eggs, but also to raise awareness for the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and other mitigation hatcheries across the country facing closure due approximately $6.3 million in proposed cuts in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2012 budget.
However, language contained within a House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for the 2012 federal fiscal year awaiting final approval would restore more than $7 million to national hatcheries, allowing them to operate for at least another year.
Roe said the Erwin National Fish Hatchery is one of three hatcheries that provide trout eggs for 16 states. The hatchery produces approximately 14 million fish eggs annually which are shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries throughout the country.
Aside from fish mitigation, Roe also emphasized the importance of the economic impact the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and other mitigation hatcheries have in the communities in which they are located and across the nation. Roe said he has no doubt that providing funding for the continued operation of these hatcheries is justified.
"When you look at a lot of things we do, and I could sit here for the next four hours telling about wasteful Washington spending, it's not one of them," Roe said of national hatchery operations. "It's not because it's here, it's because of the economic impact that this has."
According to a 2010 study of economic contributions and aquatic resource conservation completed by Dr. James Caudill and Dr. John Charbonneau, hatcheries located in the Southeastern region of the country have a total economic impact of nearly $300 million annually and generate a return of $67 for each taxpayer dollar spent on their operations.
Roe himself has written letters in support of the national hatcheries to members of the Subcommittee of the Interior, Environment, and leaders in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The congressman said while all programs should be evaluated for proposed spending cuts, the hatcheries pay for themselves due to their impact on the economy. He also expressed optimism that national hatchery operations will be able to continue for years to come.
"When you go look at a program, you look at the effect of that program and what impact it has," Roe said. "Is it fulfilling its mission? I think you can clearly say that this fish hatchery is fulfilling its mission."
Erwin Fish Hatchery Manager John Robinette said that although hatchery employees will likely once again have to worry about possible closures next year, he said he has been told passage of the bill granting them another year of operations is looking "very favorable."
"We have support from congressmen in districts all over the country where these hatcheries are," Robinette said. "It means a lot to them because that's a lot of jobs and economic benefit for those communities. As long as those guys stand together and say 'yeah, this needs to be done,' then we may be here."
Robinette also said the Erwin National Fish Hatchery has received continued support from members of the local community.
"This community has been tremendous," Robinette said. "It's been unbelievable, the support we've gotten from east Tennessee and Unicoi County, our elected officials."