WASHINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it will not close any fish hatcheries this year, including two in Arkansas.
Greers Ferry and Norfork Fish Hatcheries in Arkansas will remain open at least through September 2014 as the federal service considers how to address long-term funding shortfalls for the program.
“We are putting a Band-Aid on the hatchery system. Unless we can find a way to cover costs in a more sustainable fashion, the system will eventually need surgery,” said federal Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.
The Fish and Wildlife Service released a report Friday examining the challenges facing the National Fish Hatchery System. The report, Ashe said, sounds the alarm on a hatchery system unable to meet its mission responsibilities under the current budget climate.
“I have directed the service to work with all of our partners to determine whether the options identified in the report, or others, are necessary and appropriate to put the system on a more sustainable financial footing,” Ashe said.
Congress approved legislation in 2011 that included across-the-board spending cuts if lawmakers failed to come up with an alternative way to reduce the deficit. Under so-called sequestration, the Fish and Wildlife Service could face another $6 million cut in the next fiscal year.
The fish hatcheries had been on the chopping block but were spared, in part, because of an outcry from legislators in states like Arkansas that are home to large hatcheries.
Several members of the Arkansas congressional delegation issued a joint statement Friday expressing their appreciation to the federal agency for keeping the hatchery program open this fiscal year.
“These hatcheries replenish fisheries that were impacted by the construction of federal dams on our rivers, so the continued operation of these hatcheries is a must,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, also included statements in a joint news release.