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Willow Beach fish hatchery soon to be back in trout production business


Three years after mismanagement and inappropriate funding cuts ended trout production at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery, repairs have begun that will restore a permanent water source for the trout hatchery portion of the facility and bring back trout production and plants.

Installation of a new water intake pump began March 29 and the work should be completed by early July. At that point in time, the hatchery will receive 60,000 five to six-inch rainbow trout from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to rear to catchable size for plants to begin in December this year. Triploid (sterile) rainbow trout eggs will arrive at the hatchery in early 2017 and each year afterward for plants in future years.

Prior to the shutdown of trout production and plants in 2013, the hatchery provided trout for the Willow Beach stretch of the Colorado River, Lake Mohave, Lake Mead, and the river below Davis Dam, raising 150,000 rainbow trout each year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the hatchery, estimated the repairs to the water intake system would cost $2.5 million in 2011, claiming that much money was not in the budget. In 2013, long after the problems with the water intake system were well know, vegetation clogged the pipes that brought water from the Colorado River and caused the loss of nearly 61,000 trout in two incidents in August and November. The cost of repairs and loss of the trout led to the decision to end rainbow trout production, though more diligent maintenance and inspection could have prevented both fish losses.

After a public outcry about the impacts the loss of trout plants would have on businesses along the Colorado River, representatives from three states – but led by the Arizona delegation – put pressure on the USFWS to reverse its decision. Working jointly with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the USFWS finally agreed to split the cost of the repair and installation of a new pump – but the final cost was only $776,000, a far cry from the $2.5 million the USFWS estimated.

Anglers smelled a skunk in the whole decision making process, and it was only because of massive negative publicity and Congressional pressure that this was turned around. Early on, anglers discovered the decision never made economic sense. According to a 2005 study by the USFWS, the 150,000 trout planted each year in Colorado River produced nearly a half-million dollars in direct economic output, and the taxes generated by this economic boost more than paid for the trout planting program. Not planting those trout would only make sense to a government employee.

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 the stripers continued to attract anglers from all over the West. The trout plants also continued to provide an important fishery for anglers who live in the area and visit the region, especially in the winter months. Both trout and striped bass anglers depended on the local trout plants.

Many anglers feel the move to end trout production and plants came from internal pressure within the USFWS to stop planting the Colorado River with non-native rainbow trout and devote more effort to restore native species. A portion of the hatchery has been repurposed to raise endangered species, reared on well water, and with 50 years of guaranteed funding. This part of the hatchery was not impacted by the by the water pump/intake issues that ended the rainbow trout program.

Fortunately, that effort was quashed by people with more common sense. First, the loss of tax revenue was greater than the cost to produce the trout. Second, vast stretches of the Colorado River can no longer support the native fish that once lived there because the system has been dramatically altered by the dams. That sad part is that three years of plants have been lost because of incompetence and mismanagement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Marine Reserves will likely

remain closed to sport fishing

Here’s a shocker for you: The California Fish and Game Commission isn’t enforcing a mandate in the Marine Life Protection Act and the Commissioners are saying no promises were ever made to anglers to reevaluate fishing closures.

The sport fishing community is acting outraged by this news.

The Marine Life Protection Act called for the creation of protected areas all along the California coast and left the decisions on where those areas were placed and the fishing and access restrictions up to the Fish and Game Commission. At the end of the long process that closed off a large portion of coast’s best fishing areas, anglers were promised (in the master plan and enabling legislation) that after biological evaluations every five years, the success or failure of the closures would be analyzed and closed areas could be reopened.

This past week the Fish and Game Commission said they want to push back the evaluation schedule to every 10 years, and that openings probably would never occur, regardless of the biological data. The Commission, which is currently operating with only three members, will make a final decision at its June meeting.

You can be outraged by this, but no one should be shocked. This is the same Commission that approved hugely unpopular Marine Reserve closures, in spite of two members voting for the closures that had massive conflict-of-interest issues and should have recused themselves. This is the same Commission that recently banned bobcat trapping without any – any – supporting science that bobcat numbers were being threatened by trapping. In fact, the data is just the opposite.

This Fish and Game Commission is out of control and needs to be reined in by the legislature. Commissioners are operating lawlessly, without consequences, and usurping the legislature’s power.

Stupidity in the courts

Are you shocked this hasn’t happened in California: A Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled this past week that a lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting can go forward.

There has been a meme circulating on social media that suggest more people are killed in Prius automobiles than killed by firearms. It demands that the Prius killings stop. The judge in Connecticut is using that same logic in the gun case.

The last time I checked, the guns in my safe are inanimate objects, just like my truck. Truck nor guns have gone into a crowd of people and wrought havoc on their own. If they do, I’m pretty sure I would be responsible for the act.

Yet, the judge is suggesting that the maker of a legal object might be somehow responsible for someone else who misuses that object. Using this logic, you could sue Craftsman if you mash your own thumb with a hammer from Sears. You could sue ARCO if someone doused you with gasoline and then flung a lit match on you. You could sue the maker of that match, too.

How long before someone files a class action, animal rights lawsuit on behalf of all feedlot cattle slaughtered with a pneumatic gun. That thing really IS designed to kill cows.


[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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