The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Local hatchery up against potential budgets cuts

  • Closing of hatchery a real possibility

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  • Children of all ages excitedly rush from a nearby
    parking lot up to the Greers Ferry National
    Fish Hatchery at JFK Park near Heber Springs,
    pulling their parents along for a look at a rainbow
    trout – thought by many to be one of the most intriguing
    fish found in cold freshwater streams.
    U.S. Fisheries Biologist Greg McCormick, one of
    five employees at the local hatchery, said there is
    nothing more rewarding about his job than seeing
    the kids smile.
    “Having a little boy or girl see a trout for the first
    time. Letting them feed the big fish. I tell them ‘Don’t
    get wet’ and of course they don’t have a clue what I
    am talking about but there will be a big splash, ‘Kaboom.’
    “Letting them touch a fish for the first time…A lot
    of them come from big cities and haven’t been that
    close to a fish their entire life, much less a 10-pound
    rainbow trout. Just seeing the look in their eyes…I
    can be hot and tired, worn out from moving fish all
    week. I can get tired of looking at fish but then one of
    those kids will come through…It’s kinda hard to explain,”
    said McCormick.
    Just down from the hatchery at the Little Red River,
    anglers from all over the nation and even foreign
    countries line the bank in hopes of catching a trout.
    But, with one stroke of the pen, over 50 years of economic
    progress in this area and beyond could be
    wiped out if President Barack Obama’s budget is approved
    by Congress.
    The budget request includes a total of $131.6 million
    for the Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Conservation
    program, a decrease of $3.7 million from the
    2012 level. Facilitating the FWS role and responsibility
    in promoting ecosystem health, fisheries, and
    aquatic resource conservation, the budget includes
    program increases for cooperative recovery and
    ecosystem restoration, as well as $1.5 million for fish
    passage improvements, $1.6 million to implement
    the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, and $2.9
    million for Asian carp activities in the Great Lakes.
    These increases are offset by reductions in other
    program activities, including a $3.2 million program
    reduction to costs associated with the production of
    fish for the purpose of mitigating the effects of Federal
    water development projects. The FWS will continue
    to work to recover costs from responsible agencies
    Page 2 of 2 - in order to focus its base funding on native fish recovery
    and restoration.
    “This will definitely affect Greers Ferry and Norfork
    fish hatcheries, as well as the other four trout
    hatcheries in the southeast,” said Greers Ferry Hatchery
    Manager Sherri Shoults in a statement released
    to The Sun-Times. “We are pretty much right back
    where we started this time last year, meaning funding
    will not be there for our operations unless Congress
    changes the language of the FY13 budget before
    it is approved later in the year.”
    If the federal government cuts funding, Mc-
    Cormick estimates this area of the state would lose
    $68 million per year.
    Perhaps, the Arkansas Game and Fish could come
    up with sufficient funding to take over the program.
    “I would think that somebody would have to do it if
    not us,” said McCormick. “In the latest economic
    study, it was determined that it brings in $68 million
    per year and that includes anything related to trout
    in this area. Whether they come here just to look at
    the river and eat lunch, buy a t-shirt or whatever, it
    goes into that number. Our budget, give or take a little,
    is about $600,000 per year. Anybody would want
    to spend that much and get $68 million in return.”
    If Heber were to lose the fish hatchery, McCormick
    estimates hundreds could lose their job.
    “It would be pretty bad. I think the last study
    showed 800 jobs that are created just because of the
    trout in this river. People from all around the world
    fish this river.
    Not everybody fishes or hunts but a lot of what they
    do in their daily lives, whether they know it or not, is
    benefited by the fish in this river because of the
    tourist coming through,” added McCormick.
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