It is a recurring event, this threat from the federal government to shut down the trout hatcheries in Arkansas.
The threat oozes forth every two years when there is the laborious process of getting the United States government budget together. Whack the federal trout hatcheries at Norfork and Greers Ferry. People get angry, letters are written, phone calls are made, congressmen and senators put together news releases and speeches then take credit when funding is restored for the two facilities.
A key point that never seems to make it into print or on the air is the one of commitment. In the mid-1950s the federal government, Congress, committed to provide trout for the waters in Arkansas where native fish were destroyed by coldwater releases from the big dams of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
To provide these trout, hatcheries were built at Norfork to take care of the White River and at Greers Ferry to take care of the Little Red River.
A sizeable industry developed. Trout fishing quickly became big in Arkansas, and it became world renowned as well.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to get out of the fish hatchery business. That is plain and simple. The Corps of Engineers wants out of the recreation business, and we see campgrounds and recreation areas closing or being transferred to local agencies.
From a layman’s viewpoint, a reasonable alternative would be to let another governmental entity take over the trout hatcheries with the federal government sending a yearly check in lieu of actually providing the trout for compensation.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission knows the fish hatchery business. It has a track record in this field that is not surpassed by any other state. It has the world’s largest fish hatchery at Lonoke, and it has solid experience now in raising trout at its Mammoth Spring hatchery.
To be sure, the Game and Fish Commission doesn’t want to take on the two federal trout operations without accompanying and assured payments.
There is a precedent here.
Back in the 1980s in one of these "shut down the fish hatcheries" episodes, the federal hatchery at Corning in northeastern Arkansas was on the chopping block, and the Game and Fish Commission said, "We’ll take it." It did. A somewhat rundown and outmoded hatchery was extensively renovated and now is producing warmwater fish in good numbers like the other state hatcheries at Centerton and at Lake Hamilton, along with Lonoke.
A funny thing in these biennial threats of closing federal fish hatcheries in Arkansas is that the Mammoth Spring federal hatchery is not mentioned. That is a separate operation from the state hatchery, which once was a Kroger trout farm.
The federal hatchery at Mammoth Spring is one of the oldest in the United States, built in 1903. It lists its current programs as the restoration of paddlefish and sturgeon; recovery of endangered and threatened species, including freshwater mussels; restoration of Gulf Coast striped bass; restoration of walleye, smallmouth bass and rainbow trout in the White River drainage; and stocking recreational fish on national wildlife refuges.
The Norfork trout hatchery was built in 1955. The Greers Ferry hatchery was built in 1965. Both supply trout to other waters in addition to the White and Little Red rivers. Trout goes to eastern Oklahoma for cold tailwaters below federal dams.
The Greers Ferry hatchery has an interesting additional function — "Provide trout to meet Tribal Trust responsibilities."
White man signed a treaty?
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.