Willow Beach hatchery to resume raising and planting trout in the Colorado River
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery on the Colorado River below Hoover Dam will resume raising and planting rainbow trout in the Colorado River after an agreement between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was made final on March 4.
The major part of the agreement was for the state and the federal government to split the nearly $800,000 need to repair water intake facilities on the Colorado River that fed the trout ponds and raceways. The USFWS originally said it would cost from $2.5 to $9 million to repair the water intake.
During a four-month period in late 2013, over 60,000 rainbow trout died because the intakes failed during low water flows below Hoover Dam. The USFWS said it didn’t have the funding to repair the facilities and announced it would close the trout-rearing portion of the facility, ending 50 years of trout plants on the lower Colorado River. The funding for the endangered razorback suckers and bonytail chubs, also raised at Willow Beach, was not cut by the agency and funding is guaranteed for 50 years.
Under the new agreement, trout could be planted before the end of 2015 if the repairs to the water intakes from the Colorado River that fed the trout raceways and ponds are completed in a timely fashion.
The closure of the trout portion of the hatchery would have likely remained in place had the shut-down not caused a political uproar that eventually reached up to the national level. Arizona officials saw the closure made no economic sense because the trout reared at the facility generated more taxes through local business spending than the facility cost to operate. Federal representatives, led by Senator John McCain, hammered on USFWS officials to work with the state and come up with a solution that made some sense.
“Trout-stocking operations at Willow Beach Fish Hatchery are vitally important to the angling community and local businesses along the lower Colorado River in Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada, but were suspended last fall following a failure in the Hatchery’s water intake pipeline,” said McCain in a press release issued from his office. “When I visited the Hatchery last summer, I was briefed on a variety of engineering plans to restore operation, including some options estimated to cost up to $9 million. I encouraged USFWS and the [Arizona Game and Fish] Commission to develop an affordable and reasonable solution, and am very pleased they have reached a final deal to move these repairs forward.”
According to McCain’s office, the agreement will have a tremendous impact on the local and state economy. Analysis done by the Arizona Game and Fish Department showed that trout fishing supports around 1,700 jobs and generates approximately $75 million in annual economic activity along the Mohave County/Clark County stretch of the Lower Colorado River. That all came to an abrupt end when the USFWS unilaterally decided to cease trout plants.
Hildy Angius, chair of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors in Arizona, said the ending of trout plants had a “devastating economic impact” on the region and impacted world-class fisheries that had developed along the river because of the trout hatchery.
Angius said that AGFD fisheries chief Chris Cantrell, Congressman Paul Gosar, and McCain worked together with the federal agency to solve the disaster. “[McCain] stood with me at Willow Beach Fish Hatchery last August and promised he would do everything in his power to fix this problem and then delivered on that promise.”
The agreement calls for a four things: First, a 50-50 split in the cost between the state and federal goverments to repair the water intake facilities at Willow Beach fish hatchery. That will be approximately $338,000 each. Second, the USFWS is required to plant trout in the Colorado River for five years. Third, it will supply the AZGFD with 2 million triploid rainbow eggs (sterile) for its trout stocking programs. Fourth, the USFWS will supply 160,000 threatened Apache trout eggs to the AZGFD for its restoration work over the next 10 years.
This is definitely not a permanent fix to the problem, which is systemic. Even though the Willow Beach Hatchery was built specifically to plant the Colorado River with trout 50 years ago, the agency is moving away from hatcheries that provide recreational fish that financially support the hatchery program. Instead, its new mission is to recover threatened and endangered fish that require hatchery expenditures that are not self-sustaining because they generate nothing in direct or secondary tax benefits.
For example, no one books rooms or launches boats at Willow Beach to look at bonytail chubs. They don’t buy fuel or snacks in the store. However, trout anglers book rooms, pay to launch boats, buy fuel and snacks, and the taxes they pay on those things support the hatchery. There are no fans of Colorado River squawfish buying fishing gear, so they don’t pay the federal excise taxes on this gear that directly fund the federal hatchery system. Yet, the USFWS is moving away from sportfish hatcheries, closing dozens in recent years because of budget cuts. Yet, every one of these closures has resulted in a net loss in funding coming back to the agency, forcing another round of cuts. It’s a downward spiral.
This agreement shows the USFWS really still doesn’t get it. They don’t see recreation as a part of their mission any longer. This time, under pressure, they relented to planting trout for five more years. What happens after that? What happens after five years?
Arizona Game and Fish saw this as a good deal because it was able to document a downturn in economic activity along the Colorado River and loss of fishing license sales this area generated when trout were being planted.
It’s likely the USFWS used money locked up in endangered fish budgets for its portion of the repairs by allocation at least some of the trout hatchery space to Apache trout. I suspect Arizona didn’t need 160,000 Apache eggs for its restoration efforts. But Arizona was able to negotiate that the federal trout hatchery would restore its recreational trout production for at least five years. The Apache trout and the 2 million sterile trout eggs Arizona receives will save time and money, so it was a good deal on the state’s behalf. Their officials understand simple economics.
Five years from now, I bet the feds will want to “repurpose” the trout portion of the hatchery to other threatened or endangered coldwater species fish. So this battle is far from over.
There is also a question on if the coming plants will equal the annual allotments made in the past, or if the USFWS will also restore some plants that had already been cut before the trout portion of the hatchery was closed. At the time of the closure, Willow Beach received 2,000 rainbow trout each week all year. The stretch below Davis Dam between Laughlin and Bullhead City was planted with 4,000 trout per month from October through March. Will the feds match those plant rates? Ramping up to the permanent closure, trout plants from Willow Beach had been phased out at Lake Mohave and Lake Mead in recent years. Will those be also restored?
There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but maybe this is a step in the right direction instead of merely a delay in a complete transformation of the federal hatchery system, making it devoid of sportfish.
Shooting Sports Fair
cancelled for this year
The popular hands-on Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Fair, a joint effort between Mike Raahauge Shooting Enterprises and Turner’s Outdoorsman, has been cancelled for 2015, but Patrick Raahauge said the fair will return in 2016 on June 3, 4, 5.
Raahauge said his family was tied up with personal issues when the Sports Fair would have been held this year, so they just decided to skip 2015 and bring it back next year.
The Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Fair is the only hands-on gun show in California where people who attend can not only examine firearms from nearly all of the nation’s gun makers and importers, but also shoot them. The event annually attracts about 10,000 gun enthusiasts who shoot around a million rounds of rifle, pistol, and shotgun ammunition during the three-day event.
Firearms are one of the few products consumers usually purchase without testing them before taking them home. The Sports Fair allowed potential gun owners to see and shoot a wide variety of products before making a decision about what to buy.
For more information about the 2016 event, call Raahauge’s at 951-735-7981.
Ohio pair pushing for creation of a
federal upland bird hunting stamp
A pair of Ohio upland bird hunters is pushing for the creation of a federal Upland Bird Hunting stamp to fund upland bird habitat conservation and management, much like the federal Duck Stamp funds wetland protection.
Brian Koch, founder of Ultimate Upland, and Christine Cunningham, an outdoor columnist, started a petition to survey hunters on how much a proposed stamp should cost and how best to utilize funds generated by an upland stamp managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Following compiling the information gathered in the petition, Koch and Cunningham plan to work with federal agencies, members of U.S. Congress, and conservation organizations to begin a national conversation on shaping the proposed Federal Upland Stamp.
“For the last century hunters have been a leading force in conservation,” said Koch. “The goal of the Federal Upland Stamp is to build a new program to reverse the losses of upland habitat and the resulting negative impacts to the numerous species of wildlife that exist in those spaces.
“When we talk about the most serious threats to hunting today, the most critical issue hunters’ face is loss of habitat,” said Cunningham. He cited loss of cover plots in the South, native grassland habitat in the Midwest, sagebrush habitat in the Rocky Mountains, and water sources in the Southwest as critical factors that have led to bird declines.
To read more about the proposed Federal Upland Stamp and to sign the petition, visit uplandstamp.org.
Upcoming Water for Wildlife
projects in the Mojave, Sierra
Cliff McDonald’s Water for Wildlife volunteer crew rebuilt four guzzlers, built a new water tank, and removed 60 years of muck from two other drinker tanks in the east Mojave Desert during its February work project. McDonald is now looking for more volunteers to help with wildlife water projects the rest of this spring and early summer.
The next project will be March 20-22 with the group meeting and camping at the Goffs’ School House grounds and working in the Ibis area guzzlers about 25 miles away from Goffs. This will be followed by more work on the Mojave National Preserve’s guzzlers with the group staying at the equestrian center (near the Mid Hills Campground) the weekends of April 17-19 and May 15-17. The final work project of 2015 will be on four guzzlers located on Bureau of Land Management land out of Bishop in the Eastern Sierra Nevada on June 9-16. The group will be camping along the Owens River.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Cliff McDonald at 760-449-4820 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Marcos Turner’s Outdoorsman
turkey hunting seminar March 19
There will be a free wild turkey hunting seminar 6 p.m., Thursday, March 19, at the San Marcos Turner’s Outdoorsman. This spring’s general turkey hunting season will open March 28.
The seminar will cover where to hunt turkeys in San Diego County, call selection, calling techniques, camouflage and ammunition selection, and spring hunting techniques. Advance reservations are required because seating is limited. Call 760-741-1570 to reserve a spot.