Bill’s passage assures funds for fish hatcheries

Brad Hicks • Jan 28, 2014 at 8:58 PM

ERWIN — The operations of national fish hatcheries throughout the country, including those at the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, are secure through the remainder of the 2014 federal fiscal year as previously promised with the recent passage of an omnibus spending bill.

Funding to keep the hatcheries afloat through the rest of the year is spelled out in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Congress passed the spending bill earlier this month, and President Barack Obama signed it into law Jan. 17.

The more than 1,500-page, $1.1 trillion bill includes more than $50 million for national fish hatchery operations. A portion of the act, which combines a number of appropriation bills into a large, encompassing bill, is the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2014. This act includes $4.7 million that has been appropriated to the Corps of Engineers to reimburse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to operate mitigation hatcheries.

Among other agencies that have agreed to provide reimbursement for mitigation is the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA agreed last year to 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.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act also includes the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2014. This act includes more than $135 million for fisheries and aquatic resource conservation. Of this, $46.528 million will be provided to continue operations at every facility in the National Fish Hatchery System. None of the funds in the Department of the Interior, environment and related agencies portion of the bill may be used to close any facility.

There was some concern in 2013 that facilities within the National Fish Hatchery System could be closed, but by the end of the year, it was learned the hatcheries would not be closing in the upcoming year.

Last year, word came down that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was studying closing national hatcheries, which had been threatened by previously proposed budgetary cuts. Legislators, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., quickly responded by submitting a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

In this letter, lawmakers requested that actions recommended in the report, which were not known at the time, be delayed until officials and the public had an opportunity to review the report’s findings. In September, Alexander said he had received word from the Department of Interior that national hatcheries would not be closing over the next month as some had feared would occur.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its report. In it, the agency did not recommend the closure of any of the country’s national fish hatcheries in 2014. The future of the system beyond this year is not clear. Despite the passage of funding for 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s report said hatchery closures may be necessary in the 2015 fiscal year due to increasing operational costs and fiscal uncertainty with the National Fish Hatchery System.

“This report sounds the alarm on a hatchery system unable to meets its mission responsibilities in the current budget climate,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ahse said in a release issued at the time the report was made public. “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.”

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery produces millions of rainbow trout eggs annually, which are shipped to federal, state and tribal hatcheries throughout the country.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she is pleased the hatchery will remain open in 2014, as it benefits the local economy and draws visitors to the area.

“We’re very grateful and pleased to hear the bill has been signed and that we can count on the fish hatchery remaining opening through the end of the year,” she said. “We see no reason why it should not remain open beyond this year.”

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