CUTLINE: Trout stocked in cold waters below federal dams have resulted in a multi-million dollar industry in Arkansas. AGFC Photo

Fish hatchery funding eased — but only temporarily

By Joe Mosby

That black cloud hanging over the federal trout hatcheries in Arkansas dissipated, but only briefly. It is still on the horizon.

To recap, word came out of Washington a few months back that the hatcheries at Norfork and Greers Ferry would be closed because of funding cutbacks. Later, Loren Hitchcock, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, reported at the April commission meeting that a high official of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said funds had been found to keep the hatcheries open.

Yes, but those found funds were for the 2012 federal fiscal year which ends this coming October. Money for the hatcheries for the 2013 fiscal year remains uncertain.

The issue is a governmental entanglement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the dams that wiped out native fish populations because of cold water released downstream. Trout were brought in as a replacement game fish, and they have done so well that a multi-million dollar annual industry has thrived on the White, North Fork and Little Red rivers.

But the Corps of Engineers does not raise trout. The Fish and Wildlife Service does. Annually, the Corps of Engineers looks at cutting costs by discontinuing money provided for the trout production, and this is the case in some other states as well as Arkansas.

Meetings are held, memos are exchanged, congressmen get involved, phone calls are made – and the trout hatcheries remain open for another year.

Cindy Dohner is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region director. She recently gave Hitchcock an e-mail update on what is going on.

Dohner said, "The (Fish and Wildlife) Service believes we should move fully to a user-pay approach to fund mitigation fish hatcheries. We understand that the fish supplied by these hatcheries provide important economic opportunities to the states and recreational community, and we support the continuation of mitigation work.

"We are doing all we can to keep our mitigation fish hatcheries open, and to continue to provide fish as we have in the past in the most efficient and effective way possible but there are uncertainties and we still have challenges to tackle in FY 2013, including the funding.

"The President’s FY 2013 budget proposal would move non-reimbursed mitigation activities toward this type of user-pay system, similarly to the President’s FY 2012 budget proposal.

"This approach puts all of the mitigation hatcheries on the same footing, and represents a more efficient use of federal funds. Federal water development agencies are the appropriate entities for mitigating the adverse effects of the projects they operate.

"This approach has already been established for a number of hatcheries in the West, where the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers pay for the costs associated with the Service’s operation of these mitigation fish hatcheries.

"Because of this shift toward a more appropriate system for funding mitigation activities, the President’s FY 2013 budget proposal for the Service would decrease the funding for fish hatcheries that specialize in mitigation activities by $3.229 million from the FY 2012 enacted level.

"We will continue to work with the responsible federal agencies to recover costs and enable those fishery mitigation activities to continue. In the Southeast, the federal agencies involved include the Army Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority. … The decision on our FY 2013 budget is far from over."

In Arkansas, the federal dams were built by the Corps of Engineers for flood control and electricity generation. In Tennessee and northern Alabama, dams were built by TVA, also for flood control and electricity generation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also operates a warmwater fish hatchery at Mammoth Spring, a separate facility from the Game and Fish Commission’s coldwater hatchery on the Spring River just outside Mammoth Spring.

Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosby@cyberback.com.