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Fisheries Experts Reach Unprecendented Agreement on Recomendations for National Fish Hatchery System

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Office of the Secretary

January 22, 2003 (202) 208-6416


Interior Secretary Gale Norton told 500 delegates to the first National Fisheries Leadership Conference today that "help is on the way" for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 69 national fish hatcheries and that President Bush will seek a 16 percent increase ? $8.1 million ? in the system's budget for 2004.

"The proposed budget increase will help to recover imperiled fish species, increase recreation opportunities for anglers, eradicate invasive fish populations and repair aging infrastructure at fish hatcheries across the nation," Secretary Norton said.

The conference is the first for a Fish and Wildlife Service program that traces its roots to the U.S. Fish Commission, established under the Grant administration in 1871, and was called principally to unveil the program's years-in-the-making Strategic Vision, which will be a blueprint for the fisheries program at the start of this century.

Norton told the conference that she was impressed by the work on the program's Strategic Vision document because she considers it "a clear illustration of the guidance I believe is necessary for everything we do at the Department of the Interior. I am pleased you used what I call the 4Cs ? communication, consultation and cooperation, all in the service of conservation."

"Hatchery managers have labored to come up with a strategic plan that has convinced the Office of Management and Budget that it is time to increase your funding," Norton told the conference at their Washington meeting."Now it is going to be up to you to follow the strategic planning and thinking you have done, with follow-through and results."

The Vision document is an outgrowth of an effort that began in 1999, when the Service asked the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, a federally chartered advisory group to the Interior Secretary, to offer recommendations about the role and mission of the National Fish Hatchery System. The Council, composed of representatives from state and other federal agencies, Native American tribes, conservation organizations, private industry and academia, went on to complete a second set of recommendations for the entire fisheries program.

"The Fisheries Program is the oldest conservation effort in the federal government, and as Director Steve Williams reminds me, it began with a simple premise: keep fish in our rivers and streams," Secretary Norton said.

Norton gave special attention to recreational fishing, noting that of the $108 billion that Americans spent on wildlife-related activities in 2001, $35 billion came from fishing.

Norton reminded the conference that too often in the past, performance measures were not part of the mix for federal programs and that goals were not clearly articulated and things not always well managed.

"Today, we have a president and vice president who both like to fish and who understand fish stories and battles. That same fisherman president had brought a new direction with him, a direction based on the fact that he is also a president with a masters in business administration and understands performance measures and the bottom line," Secretary Norton said.

With a third of the nation's freshwater fish threatened or endangered, Norton said she is sympathetic to the work that the Fisheries Program and the Service are doing. "Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams understands and shares your work and your vision ? and so do I. I have every faith in your ability to accomplish your vision and your goals. And in your ability to work with your partners to restore habitats and move fish populations toward recovery, to battle invasive species and improve fish passage."

The following is a breakdown of the $8.1 million proposed increase:

National Fish Hatchery System

The president will request a funding increase of $8.1 million for the National Fish Hatchery System. The budget request for 2003 was $35.7 million. The president will ask for $40.8 million in the Administration's 2004 request. The Fisheries program, "Vision for the Future," will be implemented through increased funding for hatchery operations (+$5.0 million) and hatchery maintenance (+$3.0 million). Increased funding will be used to implement additional priority recovery and restoration tasks prescribed in approved Recovery Plans and fishery management plans; increase fishing opportunities for the public through enhanced restoration activities; and improve the hatchery system's aging infrastructure to good and fair operational conditions to meet fishery management and recovery plan requirements.

Operations (+$5.0 million)

The Fish and Wildlife Service will use $1.6 million to implement 25 priority projects addressing hatchery recovery objectives, such as increasing hatchery production and genetic refugia for listed species including pallid sturgeon and greenback cutthroat trout. Sample projects include the following:

? $55,000 to recover threatened mussel populations of the Upper Mississippi River basin ? develop propagation techniques of fish hosts and juvenile mussels to be placed in suitable habitat (Genoa NFH, WI)

? $95,000 to develop propagation techniques and refugia for Atlantic sturgeon (Bears Bluff NFH, SC).

? $45,000 to establish captive broodstock of threatened greenback cutthroat trout (Saratoga NFH, WY).

The Service will use $2.5 million to implement 32 priority projects that address restoration/recreation objectives, such as restoring declining species to preclude future listing and providing the American people with quality recreational opportunities. Sample projects include the following:

? $112,000 to develop and maintain a captive spawning population of native coaster brook trout and support production (Iron River NFH, WI).

? $67,000 to inventory existing populations and habitat to assess potential restoration of native brook trout in suitable Cherokee Indian Reservation waters (Erwin NFH, TN).

? $53,000 to develop and maintain a captive broodstock for Big Hole River fluvial Arctic grayling (Bozeman FTC, MT).

? $56,000 to restore paddlefish to Tribal Waters in South Dakota (Gavins Point NFH, SD).

The Service will use $0.9 million to implement 16 priority projects that address applied science and technology. Sample projects include:

? $28,000 to perform standardized tests on wild and hatchery salmon captured in the Methow River System to assess impacts of hatchery fish on wild populations (Olympia FHC, WA).

? $56,000 to ensure imperiled native fish species being move to and from NFHs are free of destructive pathogenic organisms to prevent losses (Pinetop FHC, AZ).

Maintenance (+$3.0 million)

Efforts will largely center on bringing critical water management structures back into proper operational condition.

The Service will use $2.5 million to implement 16 high priority deferred maintenance projects. Sample projects include the following:

? $117,000 to complete needed modifications to the existing fish ladder, passageway and channel to the hatchery water supply and prevent the wrong fish from entering the hatchery's fish production ponds (Quinnault NFH, WA).

? $450,000 replace the intake structure and pipeline to meet Atlantic salmon recovery goals (Craig Brook NFH, ME).

? The remaining $0.5 million will enable the Service to complete Condition Assessments on 75 percent of the hatchery stations by 2003.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Funding to control the spread of aquatic invasive species will be increased by $1.0 million, from the 2003 request of $4.7 million to $5.7 million. Sample projects include the following:

? Conduct risk assessments to evaluate at least two new non-native species that threaten aquatic populations and habitats (the snakehead fish was done in 2002; the bighead and silver carp will be done in 2003).

? Work with state, federal and local partners to develop and implement a management plan to address the continued spread of Asian carp species.

April 25, 2001
Laury Parramore 703-358 2541

Fisheries experts from a wide variety of backgrounds agree significant changes and clarifications about funding, focus and management are needed to strengthen the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) National Fish Hatchery System. This unprecedented consensus within the fisheries community was reached after a year-long effort by the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC).

The Council's recently released report, "Saving A System in Peril," was created by a 23-person steering committee comprised of fisheries professionals from organizations as diverse as BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), Pure Fishing, Trout Unlimited, American Sportfishing Association, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, National Aquaculture Association and state and federal agencies.

"Although there have been previous national efforts to coalesce stakeholders' views about the National Fish Hatchery System, none has been as inclusive nor as consensus-driven as this effort by the Council," said FWS Acting Director Marshall Jones. "The report is a critical document that will be used as the Service creates a strategic plan for the system."

The Council's involvement in the project stemmed from a May 1999 letter from 10 members of the U.S. Congress who asked the Service to "convene a diverse committee that includes a broad spectrum of views regarding the hatchery system's future role...." In August 1999, the Service requested that the Council "build consensus among natural resource stakeholders to provide recommendations to assist in the development of the Service's National Fish Hatchery System strategic plan." Jones said the Council will be invited to continue to advise the Service as the strategic plan is developed.

"I am deeply proud of the perseverance and vision the Council's hatchery project steering committee demonstrated throughout the entire process," said SFBPC Chair Helen Sevier. "Steering committee members and their employers donated many days of diligent work to cultivate the remarkable consensus achieved by the group. These experienced and committed fisheries leaders embraced the objective of instigating meaningful change for the National Fish Hatchery System. We look forward to working with the Service as it develops the strategic plan."

The National Fish Hatchery System, comprised of 70 national fish hatcheries, seven fish technology centers, and nine fish health centers, has serious problems. Funding for hatchery maintenance and operations dropped 15 percent in constant dollars since 1992; the system has more than a $280-million maintenance backlog; and one in four hatchery personnel positions is vacant. This erosion of support has left the system incapable of keeping pace with rapid evolutionary changes in fisheries science and technology.

In its report, the Council acknowledges the National Fish Hatchery System's roles in meeting federal mitigation obligations, restoring and maintaining native fisheries, and participating in the recovery of threatened and endangered aquatic species. The report also states that the system is uniquely positioned to influence and benefit state and tribal fishery programs, fulfill tribal trust responsibilities, and provide technical assistance to private aquaculture. The report notes that the overriding considerations for fisheries conservation and management are:

? Maintenance of healthy, wild fish populations through habitat conservation and improved harvest management.

? Maintenance of genetic diversity.

? Proper use of hatchery stocks in achieving fishery management objectives.

In addition, the report emphasizes the need for the Service to create a national strategy not only for the hatchery system but for its entire fisheries program. "It is essential that the FWS move aggressively to ensure that the National Fish Hatchery System and the products it produces fit within a publicly reviewed national strategy developed with state and tribal partners and stakeholders," the report states. "The FWS must commit to implementing the plan it produces, and the FWS, the administration and Congress must be prepared to fund adequately the activities outlined by this plan."

Note: Copies of "Saving A System in Peril: A Special Report on the National Fish Hatchery System by the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council's National Fish Hatchery Project Steering Committee" can be printed from the SFBPC's Website at or can be obtained by calling 703-358-1711.

The Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council was formed in January 1993 to advise the Secretary of the Interior through the Fish and Wildlife Service Director about sport fishing and boating issues. The Council represents the interests of the public and private sectors of the sport fishing and boating communities and is organized to enhance partnerships among industry, constituency groups and government.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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