Efforts to persuade TVA to fund fish hatcheries that produce rainbow trout now depend on legislative lobbying.
Earlier this year the federal budget cut funding to U.S. Fish and Wildlife hatcheries by around $6 million. Rather than getting funds directly from the general budget, under law the hatcheries now receive money from specific federal agencies that operate dams and rivers.
“This mitigation was created because the dams and reservoirs disrupted the river flow and the natural reproduction of fish,” said George Lane with the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited. “These hatcheries are incredibly important to an enormous recreational resource. It gives one of the best returns on investment because the eggs produced help generate a 300 million dollar industry in our area. Everything from fishing shops, bait shops, boats, and tourism is boosted by these trophy fish.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was required to help fund the mitigation in 2012. However, TVA does not fall under the same requirements because it does not receive federal tax dollars. Therefore, TVA has said it will not contribute any money to the hatcheries.
“TVA is self-funded through the sale of power. We have to be very careful about the burden we put on our power customers,” said Travis Brickey, TVA spokesman. “TVA already spends $8 million annually on improving the fish habitat downstream and upstream from our dams.”
Lane said TVA’s stance means no rainbow trout will be stocked in TVA waters such as the Clinch River and the Holston River.
“The Clinch River is one of the great fly-fishing streams in the eastern United States. People come in from all of the county to fish the South Holston and the Clinch. “Any of the lakes or tail waters that are part of the TVA system will no longer receive the trout for stocking,” said Lane.
Lane said the financial contribution asked of TVA would amount to around $800,000 annually.
“TVA customers would pay less than a dime a year to fund hatcheries. A dime is a dime and I know it is difficult to increase any charges on customers, but TVA spends money on all kinds of other projects that do not generate the kind of return on investment for the country that these hatcheries do,” said Lane. “Hatcheries like the one in Erwin are also the ones that fertilize eggs that go to other hatcheries around the country. If it shuts down, the impact is felt everywhere.”
Lane acknowledged that TVA has contributed greatly to trout fishing by creating weirs, releasing cold water, and improving oxygen levels in its waters.
“But this would be a major hit to all of those efforts if the fish are not stocked from these hatcheries. We’ve had lawyers examine the issue and TVA is not required to do anything under the current law. We think there is a moral requirement, but there’s no legal requirement because this will cost hundreds of jobs,” said Lane. “Part of the original TVA mission was economic development and this definitely qualifies as that type of effort.”
In the absence of any current legal obligations to fund the hatcheries, it may truly require an act of congress to influence TVA.
“Our chapters are planning a trip to Washington in the spring to lobby our legislators to take up this cause. TVA is up for reauthorization next year, so we believe legislators have some leverage to ask the utility to help fund the hatcheries,” said Lane.
Brickey said there is another reason TVA is unwilling to fund federal rainbow trout hatcheries. In addition to costing customers money, the rainbow trout is not a native species in Tennessee. Rainbow trout were introduced to Tennessee in the 1880s from the western United States.Jim Matheny