[Update 2/17: From Greg Barkus, chairman of the Senate Fish and Game committee: “Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding SB 425, sponsored by Senator Bales, to clarify and assure the funding for the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery. This bill will allow cold water species to be reared in the hatchery, while simultaneously maximizing the production of warm water species, and I plan to support it. SB 425 will provide adequate funding for the operation of the hatchery, which is not being met with the warm water fish stamp sales.” Nothing new here, but the committee needs to hear from you Today!]
I don’t have anything against walleyes. In fact, I think they are pretty darn tasty when broiled with a little butter, lemon juice, garlic and white wine. I have friends who are extreme walleye chasers and walleye are fun to catch. That doesn’t mean that I am in favor of gutting the FWP budget in order to fund the overbuilt boondoggle in Fort Peck.
Senate Bill 425 by Senator Keith Bales of Otter would do just that. In order to increase funding for the Ft. Peck hatchery. Four bills have been already been killed in this legislature. The new bill is just more of the same. I know there is a funding problem. This is, by far, the most expensive hatchery in the state. When the law authorizing the hatchery was passed, the warm water proponents agreed they they could fund the hatchery with receipts from the warm water license stamp. They now want to go back on that agreement and take funds from other FWP accounts that are already allocated to needed projects across the state. They would have us reduce the biologist staff in the rest of Montana to grubstake their hatchery. The Bales bill would stick a paltry few cold water fish into the hatchery in order for it to qualify for federal funds that are already apportioned elsewhere.
Even walleye anglers don’t like this solution. From the Montana Walleyes Unlimited website: “It is Walleyes Unlimited of Montana’s opinion that 8.5 Cold Water Hatcheries in Montana is enough and that the warm water anglers of Montana are entitled to at least one hatchery solely dedicated to raising warm water species and therefore we do not agree with the MFWP’s proposals.”
The ultimate solution, favored by the members of the Senate, is to do away with the warm water stamp altogether and force every angler in the state to fund Ft. Peck. Problem is, the Governor has said that he will not allow any fee increases from this legislature. So, we all get stuck with fighting these covert bills that would eviscerate fisheries management in Montana. Walleye fanciers don’t like this solution either. Again from Walleyes Unlimited: “In the near future, anglers from across the state as well as non-residents will be asked to increase their fishing license by $1 to $2 per person to fund a project that should not have required any additional funding. Walleyes Unlimited of Montana is opposed to any efforts by the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks to change the designation of species to be raised at the hatchery or to any increases in the cost of angler fishing licenses.”
We may have to find a solution for this extravagant hatchery in the future but, funding is in good shape for the next couple of years. The subterfuge in this bill is not the answer. Please call or write your Senator or members of the Senate Fish and Game committee today. The bill comes before the committee on Thursday. 406-444-4800 allows you to leave a message for up to five legislators. You can email legislators using the Legislature Message Form. Each Senator has a personal email address on his profile page. Don’t wait! Let them know today that you are not happy with this stealth legislation.
Fish and Game Committee
Meets Tuesdays, Thursdays, 3 p.m., Room 422
Barkus, Gregory (R) (Ch)
Brenden, John (R) (V Ch)
Balyeat, Joe (R)
Barrett, Debby (R)
Gallus, Steve (D)
Jent, Larry (D)
Schmidt, Trudi (D)
Shockley, Jim (R)
Tropila, Joseph (D)