Deal reached on repairs to Willow Beach hatchery

KINGMAN - The lifeline to Mohave County's $75 million sport fishing industry is going to be repaired in a cost-sharing agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission voted 5-0 on Dec. 29 to pay up to $389,000 to fix a broken pipeline at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery. The total repair cost is estimated at $780,000.

Infrastructure problems at the hatchery began nearly five years ago when broken pipelines and low water levels threatened trout production. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2013 announced that it would terminate the trout-stocking program at Willow Beach and possibly close hatcheries throughout the nation in 2015.

The continued loss of trout stocking would have a devastating economic effect on cities in Mohave County, officials said. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, introduced the National Fish Hatchery Protection Act in July, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., toured the Willow Beach facility in August to look at what needs to be done.

Stocking sport fish is one of the few government programs that "pay back big time," said Hildy Angius, chairwoman of Mohave County Board of Supervisors. She was one of many public officials who pushed for the repairs.

Kingman may not depend heavily on recreational fishing, but it's a huge economic driver in cities such as Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, Angius said.

"We have always been a fishing community and now we will remain one," she said. "One of the reasons that people buy second homes or retirement homes in Bullhead City and Lake Havasu is because of the water activities, fishing being a big one. That's how I ended up moving to Bullhead City."

Angius said her husband was a commercial fisherman and avid sport fisherman and Bullhead City was on his list of places to retire.

Recreational sport fishing contributes $1.47 billion to Arizona's economy annually, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"Without the commission stepping up to provide the funding for the repair, it is unknown when the trout stocking mitigation program along the lower Colorado River would have resumed," Arizona Game and Fish Chief Chris Cantrell said in an official statement.

The agreement will commit Arizona Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to share the costs of repairs and create a recreational fishing partnership between the agencies.

It calls for U.S. Fish and Wildlife to provide 2 million fertilized triploid rainbow trout eggs from Ennis National Fish Hatchery; 160,000 fertilized Apache trout eggs from Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery; and 150,000 catchable 11-inch rainbow trout stocked annually into Willow Beach and below Davis Dam.