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Fish hatchery facing possible funding cuts
In Feb. 26 Issue

The president's 2012 fiscal year proposed budget calls for $6,288,000 in funding cuts for operation of nine national fish hatcheries responsible for mitigating the adverse effects of federal water development projects, including Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County.

In 2009, these facilities produced a total of 12,786,600 fish and 15,924,000 eyed eggs, which directly supported 3,500 jobs and nearly $325 million in total economic benefit to local and state economies from service operated mitigation facilities, according to information obtained from the Friends of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, a non-profit group that plans, promotes and conducts fishing events for children, promotes the proper use and preservation of Kentucky streams, rivers and lakes for fishing and provides environmental education programs to the public.

"Any time you have cutbacks you're going to affect employees," said James Gray, the project leader at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery.

Any reduction in fish production from service trout mitigation hatcheries in the southeast will have a lasting impact on the economy, particularly in states such as Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arkansas, according to the group.

Gray, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which is apart from the Friends group, said he wants people to realize that the local hatchery stimulates the economy by providing a $35 million economic impact.

At this point, he doesn't know whether the proposed budget would equal a closure or just a cutback at Wolf Creek, but wanted people to be aware that the hatchery does its part to boost the economy through the fish it supplies to the southeast.

He said the federal tax revenue generated from the hatchery is more than their entire yearly budget, meaning the money that they generate goes toward paying for something else in the federal government.

The budget will impact jobs being generated in the private sector and impact revenues being collected by state and local governments as well as the federal government, the Friends group said. It will impact small "mom and pop" businesses and also large companies that depend upon anglers for much of their revenues.

The Friends group says that during a period of economic problems in our country and the fact that a large number of people remain unemployed, the closure or reduction of any trout mitigation hatchery would have a negative economic impact on the local and state economies.

The six indentified hatcheries generated 3,277 jobs with a total income of more than $85 million. Additionally, many of the jobs created as a result of these hatcheries are in rural areas where unemployment is much higher than the national average.

Each dollar of rainbow trout hatchery expenditures is associated with $67.19 in economic output, according to the group.

"The economic benefits from these hatcheries far outweigh the operational cost to the service of these facilities," the group said in a press release last week. "Almost $20 million in federal, state and local tax revenue is generated annually by six national fish hatcheries. This represents a return to the federal treasury of 2.33 times more than what it costs to operate these hatcheries. These funds can be used to help fund beneficial federal programs that don't pay for themselves."

The group says the entire trout fishing program in Kentucky relies solely on the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery. Fish produced at Wolf Creek are stocked in 115 different waters in 66 Kentucky counties and contribute over $33 million annually to the local economy.

Along with these cuts the service is proposing increases for other programs, like a $10 million increase for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, which has no economic benefit to the American people and is not supported by most State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, according to the group.

In the remaining fiscal year, the fisheries program will continue ongoing discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and initiate discussions with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Central Utah Project Completion Act and the Bonneville Power Administration to pursue $6,288,000 in reimbursement for the mitigation activities related to federal water development projects provided by National Fish Hatchery System facilities and staff.

These reimbursements are essential to offset the funding reduction and are critical for facility operations, the group said. Full reimbursement would allow for the continued production of fish for mitigation and recreational fishing, as well as assisting in the recovery and restoration of imperiled aquatic species by developing propagation and culture techniques and production of threatened, endangered and at-risk species.

In its 2010 Appropriation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was provided with $4.5 million to reimburse the fisheries program for its fishery mitigation activities and those funds were transferred. In its 2011 fiscal year request, the Corps reduced that amount to $3.8 million for this activity, which is 80 percent of the 2010 Appropriation and the full reimbursement level, according to the Friends group.

The group says the fisheries program and Corps personnel continue working to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to solidify the relationship between the two agencies, for the benefit of the local communities whose economies are linked to service mitigation actions.

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