Willow Beach Fish Hatchery

In November of 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) 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. That same month the Service terminated the rainbow trout stocking program at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery as a result of a broken water supply line, threatening 1,700 jobs and $75 million in associated economic output. The Service posted on its website, "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."

In attempting to justify this permanent termination, the agency overinflated the costs to fix the water supply line and estimated $8.46 million would be needed to get the system running again. I hand delivered Service Director Dan Ashe six different estimates in a hearing, the highest of which was $1.3 million. I was able to get his deputy to commit in a different hearing to restart the trout program if the water supply line was fixed. Total expenditures for the new water-intake system ended up being $1.07 million. The Service contributed $688,000 and the Arizona Game and Fish Department contributed $389,000 for these repairs. The Arizona Game and Fish Department also generously agreed to provide about 60,000 five-inch rainbow trout.

I spoke against terminating the rainbow trout program at Willow Beach at the first public meeting on this matter held on February 13, 2014. In order to prevent the Service from terminating important fishing propagation programs at federal fish hatcheries throughout the country, I introduced and passed through the House Natural Resources Committee H.R. 5026, the Fish Hatchery Protection Act.

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 the Willow Beach Hatchery. 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 six different options for fixing the broken water supply line that were prepared by certified engineers. I was also 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.

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."

On August 9, 2016 the Service announced the completion of a new water intake system for the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery and that rainbow trout production will soon be allowed to resume.

On October 20, 2016, the Service held a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the completion of the new water intake system and that operations of the rainbow trout stocking program will be resumed. My staff attended this event.

The loss of the trout stocking would have had a devastating economic effect on the communities in Mohave County, Arizona. The state’s sport fishing industry relies on the national hatchery system for more than 97 percent of sport fish stocked in Arizona.

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.

The bureaucratic attempts 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 an economic analysis found that for “every $1 of hatchery operational budget spent, $95 was put back into the economy.”

At a March 5, 2014 Natural Resources hearing on my legislation, 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 Mohave County testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee about the importance of preserving recreational propagation programs for fishing. In her testimony, the supervisor 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. Approximately 30 fishing tournaments take place in Lake Havasu City alone each summer.

By the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own estimates, the National Fish Hatchery System returns $289 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 $289 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.