“Warm water species are unable to reproduce and recruit below hydro-power reservoirs because the water is so cold,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Our sole remaining option is to manage a cold water fishery for trout.”
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation gets trout free of charge from the national fish hatcheries in Arkansas as “mitigation,” or compensation for the environmental impact to the stream and the loss of bottomland hardwoods caused by the damming of the Lower Illinois and Lower Mountain Fork rivers.
The Wildlife Department buys additional trout from the hatcheries, but most of the trout don’t cost the state a penny.
This has been the case for decades, but in recent years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under director Dan Ashe has threatened to eliminate funding for the federal hatcheries raising mitigation fish, citing budget shortfalls and the desire to have hatcheries concentrate on endangered species instead of raising sport fish.
In recent years, power providers such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management and the Tennessee Valley Authority have agreed to pay for most of the mitigation trout, thus helping keep open the national hatcheries raising the sport fish, Alexander said.
But it’s been an ongoing battle each year, he said.
“I have worked on this thing three or four years, and I am worn out,” Alexander said.
Arkansas’ congressional delegation is working to pass a bill that would ensure federal funding for the national fish hatcheries, but it currently doesn’t have enough support, Alexander said.
“Without that bill passing, it’s an annual crisis,” he said.
If Oklahoma were to lose the trout that is provided to the state as mitigation, the Wildlife Department doesn’t have the money in its current budget to replace them, Bolton said.
Oklahoma’s trout groups have gotten involved and are asking its members to write letters to the state’s congressmen to keep the federal fish hatcheries in Arkansas funded.
“We have done all the efforts to save the water,” Kaminski said. “Now we have got to save the fish.”