ERWIN — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not recommending the closure of any of the country’s national fish hatcheries, which includes the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, in the next year, according to a report released by the agency on Friday.
However, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hatchery closures may be necessary in the 2015 fiscal year due to fiscal uncertainty and increasing operational costs associated with the National Fish Hatchery System.
The agency had been preparing an internal propagation report on the nation’s mitigation fish hatchery program. This 31-page report released Friday came as the result of a review completed at 70 National Fish Hatchery System facilities and examines budgetary challenges now faced by the national hatchery system.
“This report sounds the alarm on a hatchery system unable to meet is mission responsibilities in the current budget climate,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe stated in a release. “In the coming months through the 2015 budget process, I have directed the Service to work with all our partners to determine whether the options identified in the report, or others, are necessary and appropriate to put the system on a more sustainable financial footing.”
According to the FWS, hatchery operations have been impacted by sequestration, which reduced the hatchery system’s budget as operational expenses continued to increase. If sequestration continues into the 2014 fiscal year, the service will have lost close to $6 million in appropriations for hatchery operations since the 2012 fiscal year, with operational costs rising all the while, according to the FWS.
“We are putting a Band-Aid on the hatchery system,” Ashe stated. “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 expense in line with actual revenues.”
Ashe stated that the service intends to take immediate actions to prevent imminent closures, but “additional actions may be necessary to address long-term funding shortfalls.”
The report also presents several options for the national broodstock program, of which the Erwin hatchery is part. One option would be the reduction of the program to one rainbow trout broodstock propagation facility, the Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Montana. This option would require the realloaction of funds from the Erwin hatchery and the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery in West Virginia to Ennis. A second option is the reduction of the program to two rainbow broodstock facilities, which would be the Ennis hatchery and either the Erwin or White Sulphur Springs facility. A third option would see all three facilities temporarily remain open until a “phased egg-reduction plan” could be implemented.
“The broodstock coordinators would then be able to develop a plan and determine the appropriate number of hatcheries to fulfill egg requests,” the report states. “Egg propagation would likely focus on fully reimbursed mitigation requests. It would be necessary to find $320,000 (the amount needed to keep the Erwin hatchery open) from an internal source, yet to be determined, to maintain propagation of rainbow trout eggs for fully reimbursed mitigation propagation needs.”
The Erwin hatchery produces millions of rainbow trout eggs annually which are shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries throughout the country.
Some feared the report would lead to imminent closures of national hatcheries. Among this group was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has supported Tennessee’s national hatcheries at Dale Hollow and Erwin since they were threatened by previous budget cuts. Earlier this year, Alexander helped broker a deal to ensure the state’s national hatcheries would remain open for at least the next three years. Through the agreement, which was signed in May, the Tennessee Valley Authority will provide more than $900,000 a year over the next three years to support federal hatchery operations that provide trout stocking programs in tailwaters and reservoirs of 12 TVA dams in Tennessee and Georgia.
When word came the FWS was possibly studying national hatcheries for closure, Alexander and other legislators sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that recommended actions in the report, which were not known at the time, be delayed until lawmakers and the public had an opportunity to review its findings. In September, Alexander announced he had received word from the Department of the Interior that national hatcheries would not close over the next month as some thought could occur.
In a statement issued on Friday, Alexander pledged to continue work to develop a long-term solution to stave off closure of the hatcheries.
“It is fortunate that we have an ongoing three-year agreement between the Tennessee Valley Authority and state and federal wildlife agencies to keep Tennessee’s hatcheries open and producing fish, but the threat of closure still exists,” Alexander stated. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s report, which does not recommend closing Tennessee’s hatcheries next year, emphasizes the importance of the working group that’s trying to come up with a permanent solution.
“I will help to find a long-term solution, because the nearly 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who buy fishing licenses in our state depend upon these hatcheries, as they are the principal reason Tennessee has some of the best trout fishing in the country.”
The report can be viewed at www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/pdf/NFHSReviewCoverPageandReport.pdf.
Earlier version of the story
NASHVILLE –– U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today released the following statement on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's report on the National Fish Hatchery System, which does not recommend closing Tennessee's hatcheries at Dale Hollow and Erwin in 2014 but highlights long-term funding challenges. Alexander made his remarks after talking with Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe on the report's contents.
"It is fortunate that we have an ongoing three-year agreement between the Tennessee Valley Authority and state and federal wildlife agencies to keep Tennessee's hatcheries open and producing fish, but the threat of closure still exists. The Fish and Wildlife Service's report, which does not recommend closing Tennessee's hatcheries next year, emphasizes the importance of the working group that's trying to come up with a permanent solution. I will help to find a long-term solution, because the nearly 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who buy fishing licenses in our state depend upon these hatcheries, as they are the principal reason Tennessee has some of the best trout fishing in the country."
The working group includes the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee and Georgia state wildlife agencies. TVA signed an agreement with federal and state wildlife agencies in May to pay more than $900,000 per year for the next three years to replace fish killed by TVA dams, and keep Tennessee's hatcheries producing fish while the working group develops a permanent solution.
Keep checking www.JohnsonCityPress.com for an updated version of this story later tonight by Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks.