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More Mitchell Act Hatcheries May Face the Budget Axe

by Bill Bakke
NW Fishletter, August 23, 2002

Three or more Northwest fish hatcheries could be closed soon unless there's an increase in federal money for Columbia River Mitchell Act hatcheries in 2003. This year's funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries amounted to $16.7 million, said R.Z Smith of NOAA Fisheries.

Discussions are underway to determine which hatcheries should be closed if funding is not increased. The preliminary list calls for closing Elochoman River Hatchery, Skamania Hatchery and Carson Hatchery, all in Washington.

Private groups such as the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association are lobbying Congress to increase the 2003 budget to nearly $21 million. Smith said a funding level of $40 to $50 million is justified, but out of reach. However, a grass roots effort is underway to develop regional consensus for a "bottom-up" budget plan by the state, federal, and tribal fish agencies for the 2005 budget.

The Senate didn't support the budget boost for federal hatcheries, so lobbying efforts are now aimed at the House. Mary Gautreaux, spokesperson for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), said her boss tried to get more funding, but there simply isn't any money available. Back in April, fourteen members of the House and six members of the Senate requested an increase for next year's Mitchell Act hatchery funding.

Since the 1930s, when the Mitchell Act was passed to fund hatcheries as a form of compensation for dam construction on the Columbia River, the budget has been based on information provided by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Since federal agencies are not allowed to lobby for a specific funding amount, they must be invited by Congress to provide a budget proposal. Fish agencies and tribes hope for a consensus this fall on a budget built from the "bottom-up" by the agencies and the public. With this regional consensus, it's then possible to request an invitation from Congress for NOAA Fisheries to provide a budget request that meets the needs of the hatchery program. The plan is to begin discussions in September for this new budget.

Fish supporters have had to remind the federal government of its obligation. In an April letter to Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) , the Pacific Fisheries Management Council didn't beat around the bush.

"Continuous level funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries represents a broken federal promise to mitigate for salmon losses due to federally sanctioned development projects not otherwise covered in mitigation agreements," said the council. "Nearly a decade of level funding has caused the closure of seven hatchery facilities, and together with reductions in others, a 40-percent reduction in the number of juvenile salmon released."

Level funding cannot support all existing programs under the Mitchell Act umbrella, said Smith.

The bottom-up budget under development would provide adequate funding for hatchery operations and maintenance, fish marking, hatchery improvements and rehabilitation, research, and new initiatives, but some fish advocates support only part of that menu.

Oregon Trout's Jim Myron and Tom Wolf of Trout Unlimited said their organizations support increased funding for fish marking and research, but don't advocate increased hatchery production. "We don't need to increase hatchery production, we need to decrease conflicts between wild and hatchery fish in the Columbia River and the ocean," Myron said.

Bill Bakke
More Mitchell Act Hatcheries May Face the Budget Axe
NW Fishletter, August 23, 2002

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