top of page

Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery ceases trout production


The second massive rainbow trout die-off in the past four months at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery on the Colorado River 11 miles downstream of Hoover Dam has sealed the deal. Rainbow trout will no longer be raised or planted in the lower Colorado River by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ending 50 years of plants in the river. While the Willow Beach hatchery will not be shut down, it will no longer raise rainbow trout for planting in the Colorado River, dedicating all of its efforts to endangered razorback suckers and bonytail chubs. “They’ve been working up to this. Now they’re only going to plant endangered suckers and to heck with the fisherman,” said Allan Cole of Henderson, Nev., an avid striped bass angler at Willow Beach and maker of the A.C. Plug. The most recent trout die-off came on November 21, when water flows in the Colorado River at the hatchery site dropped below the elevation of the hatchery water intake pumps that feed the trout raceways. By the time the problem was noticed by hatchery staff, trout in three of the six raceways had already died. The total loss was 20,800 rainbow trout. The other three raceways were emptied into the river, preventing the death of the remaining 11,105 trout that were freed. On August 12, that same piping from the river was clogged with vegetation and over 40,000 rainbow trout were killed in that incident. Willow Beach is now completely devoid of trout and Nicole Haskett, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s regional office in Albuquerque, N.M., said there were “no plans to restock the hatchery with rainbow trout.” This ends the weekly trout plants at Willow Beach and the monthly plants of trout during the winter (October through March) in the Laughlin-Bullhead City stretch of the river below Davis Dam. Willow Beach received 2,000 trout per week while the river below Davis Dam was planted with 4,000 trout per month. In the last three years, the USFWS has also phased out plants of trout in Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The USFWS says the two intake pipes that feed the trout portion of the hatchery need repairs that were estimated to cost $2.5 million in 2011. The lower pipe is near the bottom of the river and is in the worst condition and has been out of commission much of 2013. The upper pipe sat higher in the river water column and was vulnerable to low river flows and filling by floating vegetation. Both pipes were also becoming increasingly plugged with quagga mussels. Management staff with the USFWS, because of repeated sequester cuts in budget, have determined that repairing and operating the trout portion of the Willow Beach hatchery would not be feasible with the current budget. The endangered species portion of the hatchery, which operates on well water, and a separate funding pool guaranteed for 50 years is operating normally. The Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery was constructed in 1959 with the sole purpose of producing rainbow trout to plant below the Colorado River dams to create recreational fisheries in the cool, clear water released from the bottom of these reservoirs. Rainbow trout plants from the new hatchery first began in 1962. By the mid-1970s, the Willow Beach stretch of the Colorado River was known around the world for producing huge rainbow trout from 10 to 15 pounds. While the trophy fishery declined in the 1980s, as striped bass became established throughout the river and dined on small rainbow trout. Striped bass to 40 pounds or more have replaced the trophy trout and now attract anglers from all over the West. The trout plants also still provided an important fishery for anglers who live in the area and visit the region, especially in the winter months. Today, trout and striped bass anglers depend on the local trout plants. According to a 2005 study by the USFWS, the 150,000 trout planted each year in Colorado River generate nearly a half-million dollars in direct economic output. The taxes generated by this economic boost more than paid for the trout planting program. “This is really going to be a devastating event for us,” said Rusty Braun of Riviera Marina in Bullhead City. “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs the way they handled this. What happened? There was no warning, no way to rally people to get this fixed.” Even though pipe maintenance is clearly needed, many anglers are wondering how pipe blockages and low water flows could not be anticipated and corrected without fish losses. Some also have suggested that increased pumping from the well that supplies the endangered species in the hatchery could have also averted the problems. “They’ve done this on purpose. First, they quit planting trout in Lake Mead, and then they quit in Lake Mohave. Now this. For what? So they can plant endangered suckers no one cares about,” said Cole. Other anglers are less strident. Rulon “Mack” Hardy, a kayak guide on the Colorado River and Willow Beach angler from Boulder City, said he felt the maintenance issues and the lack of funding allocations within the USFWS were the primary reasons for the cessation of plants. Hardy said he felt it was shortsighted of the agency to end the plants, and he was trying to organize some efforts to reverse the decision. “With pressure in the right places, I really think we can produce some change. Outside of the fishing community, I think that we could bring out some awareness by invoking the fact that the trout hatchery program at Willow Beach is historic, and also illustrate and quantify that without it, small businesses will suffer,” said Hardy. Hardy also said that it goes without saying that the trout and striped bass fisheries will be impacted, with the trout fishery disappearing and the stripers dispersing and declining in size. Hardy said anglers should begin applying pressure on Stewart Jacks, the Assistant Regional Director for the USFWS in Region 2. An avid angler himself, Jacks is in charge of budget for the region and ultimately decides where cuts are made in the programs. Hardy also said that calls to Nevada, Arizona, and California representatives in Congress could apply pressure on the agency from both ends to quickly find funding to make repairs at Willow Beach and get the hatchery back on line. (Jacks e-mail address is Braun also felt it would be possible to get the hatchery back on line with pressure from the public, but he was concerned that it would take two or three years before the trout program could be restarted now that the agency has pulled the plug on trout plants. END

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page