Fish Hatchery Still in Jeopardy
Meeting Planned With Officials
The process of closing national fish hatcheries has moved forward, with the publication of a “planning” document by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, states Judy Cole, President of the Friends of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, “we have not heard anything about the closure of the Leadville Hatchery being any closer to actually occurring.”
Leadville National Fish Hatchery, established in 1888, is the second oldest federally operated fish hatchery in existence today and could be facing closure in 2015.
Ultimately, the document questions the sustainability of any of the national hatcheries combined with expanding costs to operate the facilities. In a media advisory released last Friday Nov. 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that while it does not intend to close any of the nation’s national fish hatcheries in the current fiscal year, warned that closures may be necessary in FY 2015 given fiscal uncertainty and growing operations costs. The FWS will continue to examine the challenges facing the FWS’s National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS), which will serve as the basis of discussions with stakeholders on how best to operate the system in a more sustainable manner while supporting the agency’s highest fish and aquatic conservation priorities.
“This report sounds the alarm on a hatchery system unable to meet its mission responsibilities in the current budget climate,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “In the coming months through the 2015 budget process, I have directed the Service to work with all of 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.”
Director Ashe added that the agency intends to take immediate actions to prevent imminent closures, but noted that additional actions may be necessary to address long-term funding shortfalls.
So what does that warning bell sound like at the local level? Well, this coming Monday, Nov. 25 Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna has arranged for Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz, Colorado Representative Millie Hamner, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (or his representative), and representatives for Senators Udall and Bennett to meet at the Leadville hatchery at 2 p.m. to discuss the options.
National fish hatchery operations have been greatly impacted by sequestration, which reduced the NFHS budget, in the face of increasing operations costs. If sequestration continues into FY 2014, the FWS will have lost close to $6 million in appropriations for hatchery operations funding since FY 2012, while operations costs have continued to rise. In response, the FWS in the fall of 2012 launched a comprehensive review of the 70 fish and aquatic species propagation hatcheries to ensure it will be positioned to address highest priority aquatic resource needs now and into the future while working within its budget limitations.
“We are putting a Band-Aid on the hatchery system. Unless we can find a way to cover costs in a more sustainable fashion, the system will eventually need surgery,” said Ashe. “The challenges we are facing are not new; however, we have reached the point wherein the absence of long-term solutions – we will have no option but to make tough choices to bring expense in line with actual revenues.”
The National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report outlines the current propagation programs as well as problems associated with sustaining operation of the NFHS in its current configuration, and suggests possible changes to how the system could be managed under several different scenarios. The report identifies the NFHS’s focus on five priorities for fish and aquatic species propagation, including recovery of species federally listed as threatened or endangered; restoration of imperiled aquatic species; tribal trust responsibilities; other propagation programs for native species; and other propagation programs for non-native species.
The FWS will use the analysis to engage stakeholders in a discussion of the future of the NFHS. They are also working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority and have put in place agreements to provide reimbursable funds for the operational costs associated with mitigation fish production on streams and rivers impacted by federal water resources projects. Congress supported these steps, in recognition that the FWS can no longer fund the production of fish for mitigation of federal water resources projects within its current budget.