Closing of hatchery a real possibility

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
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.