Willow Beach Fish Hatchery

On October 27, 2014, I received a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) informing me that "once a sufficient and reliable water supply has been fully reestablished, the Service intends to resume rainbow trout production at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery."

This was fantastic news as the Service had previously indicated on its website that "As of 2014 the hatchery will no longer be raising rainbow trout and will focus on work with the endangered bonytail chub and razorback suckers."

I applaud the hard work and vigilance of the many individuals and groups who spoke out and took action to prevent the termination of this vital program and I was proud to play a key role in fighting this arbitrary and shortsighted bureaucratic decision.

In November 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) arbitrarily changed the priorities for the five different propagation program categories and announced their intent to close propagation programs and possibly hatcheries throughout the nation in fiscal year 2015. The USFWS also terminated the rainbow trout stocking program at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery in Arizona threatening 1,700 jobs and $75 million in associated economic output.

The bureaucratic decision to terminate recreational fishing propagation programs is extremely misguided as several of the hatcheries affected were constructed more than 50 years ago for the sole purpose of offsetting the loss of native fisheries resulting from the construction of federal dams. This is the case for the Willow Beach Hatchery which was created in 1962 to counter the negative impacts on fishery resources that resulted from construction of the Hoover Dam.

As a result of the November 2013 report, the top two propagation program categories which direct funds towards species conservation, are now receiving almost all the funding from the Hatchery System. Currently, there are a total of 28 recreational fishing propagation programs that have been terminated or slated for termination. Such actions will be particularly harmful, especially in light of the fact that our National Fish Hatchery System has already been reduced from approximately 140 hatcheries to 70 hatcheries.

The recreational fishing propagation programs that are on the Fish and Wildlife’s hit list are the only hatchery programs that generate any substantive revenues for local economies. The trout stocking propagation programs in Arkansas and Oklahoma are so successful that a recent economic analysis found that for “every $1 of hatchery operational budget spent, $95 was put back into the economy.”

In order to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from terminating important fishing propagation programs at federal fish hatcheries throughout the country, I introduced the Fish Hatchery Protection Act, H.R. 5026. This important legislation will preserve propagation fish hatcheries and propagation programs within the National Fish Hatchery System and stipulates that only the Congress can authorize the termination or significant alteration of such facilities or programs.

At a March 5, 2014 Natural Resources hearing, witnesses agreed with the need for a “robust National Fish Hatchery System” that includes recreational fishing propagation programs. Congressman John Fleming, Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, stated, “In 2011, recreational anglers took 69 million trips, they caught 345 million fish, supported 364,000 jobs and the recreational fishing industry contributed over $70 billion to our economy.”

A local county supervisor from my district, Hildy Angius, recently testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee about the importance of preserving recreational propagation programs for fishing. Supervisor Angius stated that recreational fishing in Mohave County supports nearly 1,700 jobs and has an annual impact of almost $75 million annually for her county’s economy.

(Rep. Gosar pictured with Mohave County Board of Supervisors Chairman Hildy Angius after her testimony regarding H.R. 5026 on July 23, 2014)

By the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own estimates, the National Fish Hatchery System returns $28 to the national economy for every dollar spent and $3.6 billion to our economy annually. That is an excellent return on investment, and yet, the Fish and Wildlife Service is still trying to close or repurpose recreational fishing propagation programs and hatcheries throughout the nation.

Unfortunately, the Fish and Wildlife Service either doesn’t get it or simply wants to focus on their own misguided agenda. When asked at a Capitol Hill briefing on the subject whether he considered the $28 dollar return to local economies for every dollar invested, the representative for the Service stated that is “not something that factors into their decision making.”

These actions are shortsighted and the Administration should not be terminating important recreational fishing propagation programs that are in many instances, the driving force for rural economies.

During the hearing on H.R. 5026, I was able to secure a commitment from Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Steve Guertin, that if the broken water supply line was fixed, then the rainbow trout stocking program would resume at Willow Beach. Also during this hearing the Fish and Wildlife Service made clear that the agency failed to hold a public comment period and did not consider job losses or associated economic impact before terminating important recreational fishing programs. Deputy Director Guertin, admitted, “This was not our [the Fish and Wildlife Service’s] finest hour.”

During a September 2014 hearing, I hammered Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe, on the rainbow trout stocking program at Willow Beach. I hand-delivered Director Ashe 6 different options for fixing the broken water supply line that were prepared by certified engineers. I was able to get his commitment that if the broken supply line was fixed, then the agency would reinstate the rainbow trout stocking program at Willow Beach. 

I followed up on the hearings by sending a letter to the USFWS in regards to the terminated rainbow trout fish stocking program at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery.

H.R. 5026 passed the House Natural Resources Committee in July.

Current Cosponsors of the bill include former Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), Doug Collins (R-GA), Mike Michaud (D-ME), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Phil Roe (R-TN), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tim Griffin (R-AR), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Steve Womack (R-AR),  Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Joe Heck (R-NV).

The bill is endorsed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the American Sportfishing Association and the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.