Solution floated to maintain Willow Beach sport fishery

Willow Beach, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, shown here in a file photo from 2011. (MOHAVE COUNTY/Courtesy)

Willow Beach, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, shown here in a file photo from 2011. (MOHAVE COUNTY/Courtesy)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Federal and state wildlife officials have agreed on a possible way to restore the trout-stocking program at Willow Beach Fish Hatchery, a program seen as vital to Mohave County's recreational fishing industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended operations at Willow Beach last year after a failure in the hatchery's water intake pipeline.

The proposed solution calls for construction of a floating pump platform assembly at an estimated cost of $776,448, which engineers said would be less costly and more redundant than repairing and extending the existing pipeline.

The platform would be anchored near the hatchery and adjusted to fluctuations in Colorado River levels. Similar pump systems are used in agricultural and commercial operations on a smaller scale inside Lake Mead National Recreational Area.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe last week regarding the proposal.

McCain toured the hatchery on Aug. 26 with Arizona Game and Fish Department and Mohave County officials and was briefed on a variety of engineering plans to restore operations, with some options estimated to cost up to $9 million.

The senator said he was pleased that Fish and Wildlife Service and state and local officials were able to reach an agreement on a proposal for restoring the program at significantly less cost than estimated.

"Now that a consensus plan has been agreed to, it's time to find a way to move forward on this project," McCain said Monday in a statement from Washington. "I will continue my advocacy on this issue, which is important to our state."

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, has been sparring with the Fish and Wildlife director over the restocking program since introducing the Fish Hatchery Protection Act in July.

The congressman released a statement last week after the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing on what he called "continued lack of transparency" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the implementation and enforcement of laws.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly made misguided policy decisions that are not only detrimental to the economic stability of many communities throughout the country, but have also violated the laws on the books that guide how those decisions must be carried out," Gosar said in his statement. "Additionally, their complete and total lack of cooperation with Congressional inquiries has been disgraceful."

Trout stocking at Willow Beach supports 1,700 jobs and $75 million annual economic output for Mohave County, Gosar noted.

"I am pleased that I was able to get the director (Ashe) on the record stating that once repairs are made to the water delivery system at the hatchery, the trout stocking program will resume," he said.