National planning report could mean cuts, closure for Ennis hatchery

During the past year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) conducted a review of the 70 fish hatcheries in the National Fish Hatchery System. This review, which was done to ensure needs of the hatcheries are met with a declining budget, included the Ennis National Fish Hatchery.

“This has pretty serious implications for Montana federal hatcheries,” Connie Keeler-Foster, the project leader at The Ennis National Fish Hatchery, said. The review was completed in the spring 2013.

While the USFWS has said there would be no hatchery closures during this current fiscal year (FY), ongoing analysis of continued budget challenges—deficit spending, ongoing budget cuts and increased expenses—could mean cuts and closures in the future. USFWS has identified the highest priority programs and determined the ideal number of hatcheries and employees needed to support USFWS work and priorities based on current funding levels and possible future funding cuts or increases. The Ennis hatchery currently has six full-time employees.

The USFWS review document—National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS): Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report—is not a decision-making document, but rather describes findings and potential actions that could put the system on more sound and sustainable footing. Any cuts or closures would take effect as soon as FY2015, which begins Oct. 1, 2014, if Congress does not provide NFHS resources identified in the president’s FY2014 Budget Request.

Review team members collected and examined information about species produced, staffing levels, staffing needs, organizational structure, operational budgets and assets among the hatcheries. The team also established a clear set of priorities for the NFHS. The report identifies the NFHS’s focus on five priorities including: recovery of species federally listed as threatened or endangered; restoration of imperiled aquatic species; tribal trust responsibilities; other propagation programs for native species; and other propagation programs for non-native species.

The Ennis hatchery, which has more than 3,000 visitors annually, differs from most hatcheries in the country. Most hatcheries produce fish of different sizes and then stock the fish into public bodies of water for anglers to try and catch. The Ennis Hatchery, on the other hand, operates a broodstock hatchery and is the largest in the USFWS National Broodstock Program. It is also one of only two rainbow trout broodstock hatcheries in the federal hatchery system. Broodstock are adult fish that produce eggs and sperm. Ennis’ hatchery produces seven different types of rainbow trout broodstock—McConaughy, Eagle Lake, Shasta, Erwin/Arlee Cross, Fish Lake, Arlee and Harrison Lake. Broodstock and fingerling rainbow trout are also used to stock lakes and reservoirs once they reach a certain size and age. Millions of fish eggs are transported each year too.

The report states that that Ennis is one of three hatcheries that would likely be severely affected by all scenarios of options for the broodstock program “because much of the propagation of these facilities falls into the lowest priority category (non-native species).” As a result of this great affect, the review team recommended that the unique importance and interdependent nature of these facilities be described and additional options be identified. Ennis’ hatchery would experience major capacity reduction under each reduction scenario. The hatchery would feel the effects too from reprioritization with level funding or a 5-percent increase and the facility would not function as a national program under any of the scenarios.

“Each facility plays a unique role in the management of their particular strains and species,” the review team said.

In alternate options one and two, the report states that the Ennis National Fish Hatchery would remain operational. Option three would keep the hatchery temporarily operational until a phased egg reduction plan could be implemented.

According to USFWS Director Dan Ashe, the report makes note of why the hatchery system is unable to meet its mission responsibilities in the current budget climate. Ashe also said that the agency intends to take immediate actions to prevent possible closures, but added that additional actions may be necessary to address long-term funding shortfalls. He called previous and current short-term actions a “Band-Aid” that can’t heal the challenges that have reached a breaking point.

Laury Parramore of the USFWS said national fish hatchery operations have been greatly impacted by sequestration, which reduced the NFHS budget, in the face of increasing operations costs. If sequestration continues into FY 2014, the service will have lost close to $6 million in appropriations for hatchery operations funding since FY 2012, while operations costs have continued to rise.

The report can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/pdf/NFHSReviewCoverPageandReport.pdf. The appendices can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/pdf/NFHSReportAppendices.pdf.

The Ennis National Fish Hatchery is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a self-guided tour available. Guided tours are also available if scheduled in advance. Please call 682-4847 for more information about the hatchery.

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