Why Hatcheries: The Likely Relevance of Public Fish Production Systems in the Coming Decades

Monday, September 9, 2013: 1:20 PM
Marriott Ballroom A (The Marriott Little Rock)
Gary Whelan , Michigan DNR Fisheries Division, Lansing, MI
Public fisheries agencies across the landscape are struggling with declining revenues which make large infrastructure systems vulnerable to budget reductions.  Initial minimum estimates of the total installed state and federal fish production infrastructure is approximately $3.7 billion dollars with an estimated annual operation cost of $370 million dollars which makes it a large value economic asset to move to other purposes.  While this may be an attractive option to balance current fiscal issues, the rapid land use conversions currently occurring in the U.S. and other countries to support increased row crop, in particular corn production along with future land use change opportunities created by large scale climate change should make fisheries agencies take pause to consider this decision which is nearly impossible to restore from once taken.  It is clear that the conversion of over 12 million acres of CRP land into row crops, mostly corn, in the last 5 years will create water quality and material input issues across the continent and will reduce fish habitat quality.  Additionally, all of the climate models show large scale warming trends that will certainly cause human populations to increase, rapidly increasing urbanization, and will move agricultural conversion of grass and forest lands northward.  The recent National Fish Habitat Board’s Assessment of the Nation’s Fish Habitat clearly showed that increasing amounts of urbanization and agricultural conversion will increase the stress on our nation’s fish habitat, likely reducing its quality and allowing invasive species to gain new footholds.  Given these likely degraded habitat scenarios, it is foolish to think that we will not need properly designed and operated fish production systems which must use sound genetics and fish management policies.  Public fish production systems will provide the needed lifeline to species that are in danger of losing their current homes to climate and land use changes, likely buying time against extinction, and will be needed to maintain economically important sport and commercial fisheries.  The role for public fish production system in the future should be to: restore extirpated species; rehabilitate depressed fish populations; provide ecosystem balance; and provide for enhanced fishing opportunities.  We must maintain sufficient public fish hatchery infrastructure that when combined with habitat protection (protecting the best of what remains) and rehabilitation of degraded system, and proper harvest allocation provide the keys to keep ecosystem benefits flowing from our aquatic systems in the face of climate and land use change.