National Fish Hatcheries:

Authority Needed to Better Align Operations With Priorities

RCED-00-151: Published: Jun 14, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) national fish hatcheries, focusing on whether: (1) the activities carried out at the national fish hatcheries are consistent with their statutory authorizations; and (2) changes in existing laws would be appropriate to provide better direction to FWS on which programs to emphasize and to authorize FWS to make changes in how it manages the hatcheries.

GAO noted that: (1) the laws governing national fish hatcheries authorize and direct hatcheries to engage in a wide variety of activities; (2) these activities include: (a) establishing and implementing programs for the protection and conservation of fish, some of which are threatened or endangered; (b) mitigating the impacts of constructing federal dams and other federal water projects; (c) supporting recreational fishing; and (d) supporting fishery resources on FWS or tribal lands; (3) FWS believes that its most important mandate is to recover and restore native aquatic species and ecosystems that are either threatened or endangered; (4) congressional direction on which programs that Congress wants the hatcheries to emphasize would allow FWS to better align hatchery operations with the activities that Congress believes should be FWS' highest priorities; (5) because the laws affecting hatchery operations were enacted over a long period of time and covered a broad range of issues, FWS has been charged with meeting a variety of goals that sometimes conflict or for which the hatcheries are not well located to carry out; (6) FWS finds itself struggling to address the many mandates incrementally added over the years while, at the same time, trying to maintain modern and efficient hatcheries in locations specified by law; (7) furthermore, FWS finds itself operating hatcheries in locations and spending resources to produce types of fish and operate programs that it might not have conducted but for current laws; (8) although FWS' funding has increased by 34 percent in constant dollars since fiscal year 1992, the funding allocated to the hatcheries has declined by about 15 percent in constant dollars in the same period; (9) at the same time, the hatcheries have tried to maintain activities in all program areas but in so doing, have fallen short of production goals or have made compromises affecting fish quality; (10) to obtain additional funding, FWS has sought to obtain reimbursements from the beneficiaries of federal dams and other federal water projects and has succeeded in some cases; and (11) however, FWS is prohibited from obtaining reimbursement or lacks clear authority to do so.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not address this issue.

    Matter: To assist FWS in accommodating the variety of laws that it implements in its management of the hatchery program, Congress may wish to provide direction on which programs it wants the hatcheries to emphasize.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not address this issue.

    Matter: To allow FWS to more efficiently and effectively align its operations with congressionally directed priorities, Congress may wish to authorize the FWS to open, close, change, move, and consolidate hatcheries.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not address this issue.

    Matter: To provide an additional source of funding for hatchery operations that mitigate the impacts of federal water development projects that benefit third parties, such as water users or electric power recipients, Congress may wish to provide FWS with clear authority to seek reimbursement from federal water development agencies and project beneficiaries for all hatchery operation and maintenance expenses associated with such projects.


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