July 23, 2014 - 15:27
Trout stocking reduced
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Trout stocking will be reduced about 20% in the coming fiscal year and could be reduced 85% after that, according to Frank Fiss, Assistant Chief of Fisheries at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Trout stocking will be reduced about 20% in the coming fiscal year and could be reduced 85% after that, according to Frank Fiss, Assistant Chief of Fisheries at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The key issue is reduced federal funding for fish hatcheries and a so-far-unsuccessful effort to get TVA to pay for the fish stocked in TVA waterways.

Andrew Currie, Manager at Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery, said the hatchery was created under the Fish & Wildlife Service in 1966. At the time, he said, Congress said the dams impounded by quasi-federal agencies were having an impact on fisheries, so it was the responsibility of government to take mitigation steps. The idea was to offset, or mitigate, the changes in fish habitat that were brought about the conduction of federal dams.

However, Currie said, there was never any specific legislation tying the hatcheries, TVA and the Army Corps of Engineers together for mitigation efforts. Until recently, money was appropriated by Congress and the Corps provided mitigation funding, but not TVA. Now the federal budget is looking at reducing the funds for mitigation hatcheries and FWS is asking TVA and the Corps to help fill the gap. The Corps has made a commitment, but TVA has not.

Travis Brickey, spokesperson for TVA, said while TVA is not required to provide funding for federal hatcheries as part of the national Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, TVA does take numerous steps to support healthy fish populations, in both the reservoirs and the tailwaters of its dams. He  said TVA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are engaging in ongoing discussions regarding funding of operations of federal fish hatcheries. “However,” he said, “since TVA does not receive federal tax money, all of its aquatic habitat enhancement efforts are paid by electric consumers across the Tennessee Valley region.”

The FWS said it will keep its mitigation hatcheries in the southeast open in fiscal year 2012 but cannot keep them open without help after that. The service is asking the Corps of Engineers and the TVA to pay for fish used by these groups in some capacity. The Corps gave $4.5 million last year and $3.8 million this year, but TVA has not contributed directly to the hatchery yet.

At this point, Currie said, he is not sure what will happen because the federal budget has not been finalized. He said there is a possibility that there will no longer be funds to provide fish for water development projects. He said he is working on a variety of possible scenarios, including no longer providing fish for TVA waterways after Oct. 1 and a 20% cut for Corps waterways. He said 60% of the production at Dale Hollow is for TVA waterways, which are managed by TWRA in Tennessee. So far, he said, TVA has not been willing to provide mitigation funding. Come August 2013, he said, the hatchery may have to close follow a one-year reprieve with reduced production.

Fiss said TWRA is working to maximize production at state hatcheries and find additional production opportunities. He expected next year’s stocking to be down about 20% below dams and big reservoirs, with a larger reduction after that. He said the change shouldn’t affect the small streams that receive stocked fish, but next year could see a 65-85% cut in stocking of TVA waters, which includes the Hiwassee River.

He said hatcheries were built to provide fish to mitigate impacts from water impoundments and Congress appropriate funds for Corps projects but does not have a mechanism to provide funds for TVA projects. For years, he said, the Fish & Wildlife Service was providing those funds. Fiss said TVA is working with the state and FWS to get legislation that will include any federal water projects in the mitigation program.

In the meantime, TWRA may have to re-evaluate its fish stocking program, which includes more than 130 waters across the state, many of which are TVA waters. The state has always provided some funding for extra production from Dale Hollow, as well as trying to make its own hatcheries bigger. There are plans in the works for a new state hatchery in East Tennessee, but that has not been funded. The no-frills cost would be around $15 million, he said, and that would secure the state for current expectations.

Fiss said it makes more sense for FWS to handle the problems of the federal government, noting it’s not fair for the people to pay for use of that habitat because there is no obligation to mitigate. He said Tennessee is harder hit than other states because so many of its dams – 11 of 16 – are TVA, not the Army Corps. Most other states, he said, are only facing a 20% cut, while Tennessee faces the loss of all funding for TVA waters.

Meanwhile, Dale Hollow is faced with what to do with fish on hand and orders that are already scheduled. Currie said it takes 16 months to raise a nine-inch fish and he has an order for 1.8 million eggs coming in August, a lot of which were to be for TVA waters.

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