Funding cuts could threaten trout industry

By Anna Oakes (anna.oakes@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: May. 29, 2013 | Modified: May. 29, 2013
Funding cuts could threaten trout industry

A Wildlife Resources Commission representative displays a trout from delayed harvest trout waters.
Photo courtesy of WRC



The agency responsible for stocking hatchery-supported public trout waters in North Carolina’s mountains faces a significant funding cut in the Senate’s proposed budget.

The N.C. Senate budget bill — which passed last week and is now under consideration by the House of Representatives — proposes $9.5 million in state appropriations to fund the Wildlife Resources Commission, almost half of the state support it received this year.

“Word is getting out about the magnitude and the potential level of impact that this kind of budget cut might have,” said Mallory Martin, WRC chief deputy director.

The agency was created in 1947 to conserve and sustain the state’s fish and wildlife resources and is also responsible for enforcing North Carolina fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws.

Although the state appropriation represents a substantial portion of the WRC’s budget, the agency also receives revenue through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal grants and other receipts. Its total operational budget is approximately $65 million, according to the WRC website.

Among the agency’s services is the operation of six fish hatcheries across the state and the stocking of approximately 6 million fish in public lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. In Watauga County, the WRC is scheduled to stock nearly 40,000 brook, rainbow and brown trout in 19 river, creek and lake locations in 2013.

A study commissioned by the WRC found that trout fishing creates $174 million in annual impact to the state’s mountain counties, with $72.7 million attributable to hatchery-supported waters and $46.5 million to delayed harvest waters. The study found that the most heavily fished counties were Transylvania, Watauga, Haywood, Cherokee, Henderson, Jackson and Ashe.

The WRC governing board held an emergency meeting May 21 in response to the Senate’s proposed funding cut.

“One of our immediate actions has been to put on hold a number of projects that are in various phases,” Martin said. That includes the planned expansion of the Armstrong cold water hatchery in McDowell County, which raises trout for the state’s 11 northern mountain counties.

“We know that trout fishing is a big deal for tourists,” Martin said. “We want to be able to meet the needs and desires of the angling public and to benefit activities associated with tourism, (but) we’ve been constrained by our production capacity for trout production for a number of years.”

Martin said it’s too early to speak about the impacts of a 49 percent funding cut, if approved, but he said current levels of service might have to be reduced.

“A budget cut of that magnitude would have some very significant and far-reaching impacts,” he said. “Really, no program area in our agency would go untouched.”

Judson Conway, owner of Elk Creek Outfitters, said he doesn’t support a funding cut to the commission — even though reduced trout stocking could potentially help his fly-fishing excursion business.

“If you’re not catching fish, what are you going to do? Hire a guide,” Conway said. He said Elk Creek Outfitters can take anglers to good wild trout destinations and sites in Tennessee, which would be unaffected by North Carolina’s funding cut.

But “I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. “This will not be good for Boone and tourism. It won’t be good for many businesses in town.”

Martin said it would be difficult for commercial hatcheries to provide the same level of service as WRC’s stocking operation, which he said was “second to none in the Eastern U.S.”

“Our program is very diverse and relies on the skills and the capabilities of our staff,” he said. “I’m not sure that the same result is available through the private sector at this time.”

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