PHOENIX, ARIZ.– The deal to restore rainbow trout stocking to the Tri-State area has been signed, sealed and delivered. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) executed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today that will reopen the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery to sports fish and in particular for rainbow trout.
The agreement had been approved by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, but hadn’t been fully executed until today. The AZGFD has agreed to pay for half of the estimated $776,000 needed to install a new water pump system to supply Colorado River water to the hatchery’s stock ponds. The agreement will also ensure that trout will be trucked to Lake Mohave on a temporary basis until repairs are complete. The water line has been inoperable for years, but was never fixed due to the perceived cost of repairs, which the USFWS first estimated to cost between $3-$9 million.
At the time, there was no rush to fix the line because a back-up was readily available, however, as the level of the Colorado River started to drop, the back-up line became less reliable.
The fish stocking system crashed on Nov. 21, 2013, forcing the USFWS to conduct an “emergency stocking” of 11,000 rainbow trout when the low water level made it impossible to draw fresh water. Even with their attempts, officials at the hatchery still lost 20,000 fish due to a lack of water movement through the system.
The first response by the USFWS was to abandon the trout stocking program in its entirety. When USFWS announced that the decision had been made to close the sport fish program after 52 years of operation, local officials, including Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius became alarmed at the impact the decision would have on the economy of the Tri-State area. She embarked on a very public campaign to reverse the USFWS decision, meeting with officials in Phoenix and Washington D.C. She even testified before a congressional subcommittee last year on legislation that would have forced the USFWS to restart the fish hatchery program.
Angius’ efforts paid off late last year when it was announced that an agreement had been ironed out. The first-term supervisors was very happy with today’s turn of events.
“The ink is dry,” said Angius. “This is a huge win for Mohave County and goes to prove that this board (of supervisors) will fight for what we believe in.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain was quick to credit Angius for her steadfast committment to the fight to reopen the fish hatchery.
“I would also like to thank Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius,” McCain said. “There has been no greater advocate for fixing the Willow Beach Fish Hatchery than Hildy and an agreement would not have been reached without her tireless work.”
For their part, the USFWS will oversee the actual repairs to the pipeline and raise rainbow trout for stocking in the Colorado River for five years. The fish hatchery will supply two million triploid rainbow trout eggs to AZGFD annually for five years and supply 160,000 Apache trout eggs to the Department for 10 years.
Today’s execution of the agreement drew praise elected officials from Washington D.C. to Phoenix to Mohave County.
“I am very pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission have finalized an agreement to begin restoring rainbow trout stocking operations at Willow Beach,” said McCain. “This agreement is vitally important to the angling community in Arizona, which supports approximately 1,700 jobs and generates $75 million in economic activity along the Mohave County/Clark County stretch of the Lower Colorado River.”
“We are proud to finalize a cooperative agreement providing vital assistance to an important industry in Arizona, and grateful to Senator McCain for his staunch support of returning trout propagation to Willow Beach,” AZGFD Commission Chairman Robert Mansell said. “With this agreement, Arizona will retain its reputation as one of the finest sport fishing destinations in North America.”
“Today’s agreement to restore rainbow trout stocking at Willow Beach is a win for jobs, Arizona’s economy and sportsmen throughout the country,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-Arizona). “Countless individuals stepped up and deserve thanks for speaking out after trout stocking was arbitrarily terminated.”
“I’m proud that our collective efforts will protect trout fishing in Mohave County for future generations and I was honored to play an important role in saving this worthwhile program,” Gosar continued.