Can Political Pressure Derail Feds’ Effort To Cull Hatcheries?

By Etta Pettijohn

The Outdoor Wire

There have been several new developments since we reported on Tuesday, September 3 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans — being kept well away from public and media scrutiny for fear of political backlash — to shutter most if not all of the agency’s mitigation hatcheries.

For more than a dozen years and under multiple administrations, agency hierarchy has pointed to budget constraints as the reason to shed the Congressionally mandated responsibility for mitigating the loss of native fisheries caused by the federal dams built in the past century.

Although FWS officials would not confirm these plans, insiders apparently contacted some media outlets in South Dakota as they began reporting that the historic D.C. Booth Hatchery, built in 1896 and home to the largest collection of freshwater aquatic research in the U.S., had received orders to close by Oct. 1.

The response to questions from The Outdoor Wire directed to several agency officials, like Laury Parramore, FWS Office of Communications, included statements like: “Leadership within the Service conducted an extensive review of propagation hatcheries within the NFHS to ensure we are best positioned to address the agency’s highest priority aquatic resource needs now and into the future. Outcomes from the review are now guiding a decision-making process toward more strategic, priority-driven investments and operating our hatcheries within available funds.”


Questions began surfacing about the agency’s reasons for planning to close these facilities, considering the FWS’s “FY 2014 Budget Request and Justification,” included in President Obama’s FY 2014 budget submitted to Congress on February 12, 2013. In this document the agency requested funding these facilities at the same level as in recent years, and no cuts were mentioned.

“The 2014 budget request for the National Fish Hatchery System Operations is $46,528,000 and 355 FTE, a net program change of -$172,000 and -3FTE from the 2012 Enacted,” said Rick Nehrling, a 38-year veteran of the FWS, with 19 years overseeing southeastern U.S. hatcheries, “This statement informs us that all hatcheries – including the mitigation hatcheries – are fully funded.”

Seems someone in FWS has some explaining to do, and if some members of Congress have anything to say about it, it won’t be long.


The current climate in Washington D.C. is heated, as both sides of the aisle clash over cutting spending to try to stem the runaway deficits. Both sides agree wasteful spending must be curtailed, but neither will agree throwing out the baby with the bathwater is a prudent idea.

The 70 federal hatcheries support at least 3,500 jobs and have an annual economic impact of more than $325 million. These facilities lead to major economic advantages for the communities that house them, and are a beacon of sound government management. Besides the economic advantages, these provide the means to fulfill President Barak H. Obama’s “2012 Great Outdoors Initiative,” designed to increase and enhance outdoor recreation.

On Sept. 11, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Boozman (R-AR) – along with House members Rick Crawford, Doug Collins, Tom Cotton, Tim Griffin, Phil Roe and Steve Womack – sent a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting for a 60-day delay in the implementation of any recommendations for closure of any national fish hatcheries or other plans, so the public could review them.

“It is our understanding that this study is soon to be released, along with decisions about hatchery closures,” Alexander and his colleagues stated in the letter. “We are gravely concerned that Congress has not been consulted on the matter.”

In another development, Sen. Tim Johnson, (D-SD), on Sept. 4 in a letter to Secretary Jewell requesting that the FWS “maintain funding for the D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery,” and that he be apprised of the any decisions made about the status of the facility. Johnson, like Sen. Alexander, is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

It appears the FWS’s plans to quietly eliminate these hatcheries from its overall responsibilities have surfaced – catching the attention of some mighty big fish in Congress, those with the ability to get to the bottom of what’s really on the line.