ERWIN — Although they say it is unlikely to occur this year, officials with an area chapter of Trout Unlimited say the closure of nine national fish hatcheries, including the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, is still a conceivable possibility.
These officials are asking people interested in keeping the hatcheries open to make their voices heard now in an effort to stop the cessation of hatchery operations.
Lori Paris, secretary of the Cherokee Chapter of Trout Unlimited, based in Greeneville, said the federal government is operating on a continuing budget resolution since Congress failed to pass budget legislation by the start of the 2012 federal fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1. This continuing resolution will fund federal departments at the same rate as 2011 budgets until a 2012 budget is passed.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year would see a $6.3 million decrease in the base funding of fish hatchery operations if approved, despite an increase of more than $40 million in FWS funding over the 2010 fiscal year. The department’s proposed budget states that unless reimbursement is received from several agencies for previous mitigation related to federal water infrastructure projects, the proposed cut could lead to Fisheries Program activities being “eliminated or substantially reduced” at nine national hatcheries.
“Based on how the monies are appropriated based on their proposed budget, they would end up getting closed if the budget is passed,” Paris said.
The continuing resolution is set to expire Friday and operation of these hatcheries will remain funded at least until then, Paris said.
“Actually, that’s the best thing that could happen if nothing gets done (by Friday), because it means they’ll continue under the 2011 budget until 2012 budgets are approved,” Paris said.
However, she said if the continuing resolution is extended past this date rather than having a budget passed, it would still leave hatcheries in limbo unless monies are reallocated in the proposed 2012 budget.
“If they don’t reappropriate the monies that they currently have in their budget to fund the hatcheries, then they’re gone,” Paris said.
The Erwin National Fish Hatchery has been in operation since 1897 and produces rainbow trout eggs that are shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries throughout the country. The fish raised at these hatcheries are then placed back into public waterways.
Paris said monies that could be used for continuing operation of the hatcheries is being proposed for use on new items that are already being studied or funded in other departments.
“I agree that studies are important and you need to do them, but not when other agencies are doing the same thing and, two, not when it’s at the cost of 68,000 jobs that are at risk and so many billions of dollars of economic impact,” Paris said.
According to a 2010 economic assessment of economic contributions from fisheries and aquatic resource conservation completed by Dr. James Caudill and Dr. John Charbonneau, the hatcheries in the Southeast have a total economic impact of nearly $300 million annually and generate a return of $67 for each taxpayer dollar spent on their operations.
According to a letter written by Paris and Paul Anderson, who serves on the Cherokee Trout Unlimited Chapter’s board of directors, a new continuing resolution passed after Friday also could be amended by proponents of closing the hatcheries, which could result in their closure.
“We’re hoping they don’t get the votes to do it right now,” Anderson said.
Paris also said there has been back-and-forth correspondence between the national chapters of nine organizations, including Trout Unlimited, the American Fisheries Society, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foun-dation, the American Sportfishing Association and the Tennessee Valley Authority. These organizations are requesting the TVA reimburse the Fish & Wildlife Service $835,000 they feel is owed for mitigation services it provided.
“Congress directed the FWS to recover mitigation costs to secure as funding for its hatchery mitigation services. The FWS has made several attempts to negotiate reimbursement with the TVA, but to no avail. Without a commitment from the TVA for the reimbursement of these services, we have been informed that the FWS will no longer be able to mitigate the negative effects of TVA water projects by stocking those waters with federal hatchery-reared fish,” an Oct. 17 letter from these organization to TVA Senior Vice President of Environment and Technology Anda Ray states.
“Because the Erwin hatchery provides eggs and brood stock to other facilities, the repercussions will be felt throughout the (National Fish Hatchery System) and the states and agencies they serve. Though the full suite of consequences is unknown, there in no question that without the TVA’s reimbursement, there will be significant reduction of the operations of these facilities and the denial of mitigation services for TVA waterways,” the letter further states.
In an Oct. 13 letter provided by Paris, Ray addresses Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited Chairman John Torchick. Ray states that while the TVA is exempt from the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, it has addressed its responsibilities to mitigate for the impact from construction of TVA’s federal water projects through the transfer of wildlife reservoirs, previous hatcheries support and infrastructure improvements.
“Even though TVA has mitigated the initial impacts of construction of the dams, we continue to be proactive in maintaining aquatic habitat for the cold-water trout introduced into the tributary streams. We have spent approximately $60 million on capital improvements to provide a healthier environment for both warm-water and cold-water fish habitats. We also built and transferred control of two fish hatcheries to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service located at Norris and Elk River,” Ray’s letter to Torchick states.
If the hatcheries were to close, Paris speculated it could occur at the end of 2012’s first quarter. She said those interested in keeping these facilities open should contact local and state legislators.
“If we don’t get in front of our congressmen and senators and jump up and down and wave our arms, nothing’s going to happen,” Paris said.
Paris also said the Cherokee Chapter of Trout Unlimited is working to form a nonprofit friends group for the Erwin National Fish Hatchery to ensure monetary efforts made in support of it remain local.