There's often great irony in the news if you look hard enough.
Under the leadership of Steve Williams, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) appears to have righted a ship that had drifted dangerously off-course over the past decade. Addressing resource managers and representatives from the recreational fishing industry in Washington last month at the National Fisheries Leadership Conference, Williams mapped out a rather ambitious strategy that, in his words, will put the "fish" back into this federal agency.
At the same conference, Interior Secretary Gale Norton unveiled the Bush administration's commitment to the nation's natural resources by announcing the president's proposed budget that would deliver a 16 percent increase in funding to the troubled federal hatchery system, a $5.7 million boost to combat the spread of non-native species inside our borders and funding for several other fisheries programs.
The irony, of course, is that much of the funding being requested for the federal hatchery system will be spent on the recovery of imperiled, threatened or endangered native fish like the humpback chub and the razorback sucker, not necessarily the kind of fins that fuel the nation's multibillion dollar recreational fishing industry.
So we have to ask the question: Will a flannelmouth sucker hit a spinnerbait?
Regardless of what kind of fish are being raised in the concrete raceways on federal property in the coming years, however, at least it's a step in the right direction. Under previous administrations, the entire system had suffered from wholesale neglect and was in imminent danger of a total meltdown.
Remember the fire sale on federal hatcheries a few years ago?
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that there's no guarantee Congress will rubber stamp any of the Bush outdoor budget proposals. In other words, don't run down to your local lake and wait for the federal hatchery trucks to arrive. You could be waiting a long time.
For more on the conference, see Robert Montgomery's coverage.
While the federal government's renewed commitment to fish and wildlife is good news, here's the bad news. The same administration has run roughshod over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hampering its ability to prosecute the corporate criminals who continue to ravage the air, land and water which sustain healthy fish and wildlife populations. Viewed in this light, the "Bush Outdoor Doctrine" seems like a self-defeating proposition.
Turn a few pages in the March issue of BASS Times and you can read about the budget crisis now facing state wildlife agencies from Maine to California.
Here's the unvarnished truth.
The federal government does not determine the health and quality of fishing in this nation. That job belongs to the state fish and wildlife agencies. State biologists are the ones who set creel limits to ensure abundant supplies of gamefish. State resource managers are the ones who survey fish populations, conduct habitat enhancement efforts and implement the programs that ultimately determine the future of our inland fish stocks. State programs provide the bulk of America's fishing opportunities, options and education not the federal government.
Due to tough economic times and budget shortfalls, many states are facing sweeping budget cuts that we'll all feel at the local level, from hatchery production and law enforcement to angling access and fisheries management programs.
Many states have already announced plans to shut down some hatcheries state facilities that actually produce the kind of fish that will hit spinnerbaits. A few lakes could be closed to all public fishing. Many urban fishery programs are headed for the chopping block. And some state agencies have already announced plans to lay off some of the people who are putting the fish back into recreational fishing.
In an article written by David Hart, you'll learn about the cold, hard reality of funding for fisheries.
The bottom line? Recreational fishing could take some major hits in the months ahead.
Kind of ironic, ain't it?
Material provided by the March issue of BASS Times
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