Remarks by Jamie Rappaport Clark Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the American Sportfishing Association October 27, 1999

Thanks everyone, and thanks to Mike Hayden and the American Sportfishing Association for inviting me to speak today.

Your invitation comes at a time of considerable confusion and turmoil over the administrative grants portion of the Service's Federal Aid program and the future role of our Fisheries program ? two activities of great importance to anglers, boaters, hunters and other outdoor recreationists and conservationists.

Many of you have been hearing, and reading, a lot lately about the Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately much of this dialogue has become heated and even personalized to the point that it is beginning to threaten the powerful alliance among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the States, and hunters and anglers. This is not good for fishing, hunting, or natural resource conservation. This alliance among Federal and State governments, the hunting, fishing and boating industries, and mainstream conservation groups, has provided the foresight, the energy, and most important the funding for many of our Nation's most significant conservation achievements.

From press releases, news stories, magazine articles, and Congressional hearings, there have been allegations of corruption and mismanagement in our Federal Aid program, statements that the Service is abandoning its support of sportfishing, and the clear implication ? cleverly phrased to avoid being a direct accusation ? that I am personally anti-fishing. These statements deserve a response, and so here's mine, straight from Roget's Thesaurus: "False." Definition: Devoid of truth. Containing error or errors. Containing fundamental errors in reasoning. Not true to duty or obligation. Synonyms: inaccurate, incorrect, unsound, wrong, erroneous, fallacious. Idiom: way off the mark.

At this point you are probably thinking: but there must be some truth to what we are hearing. If not, why are such things being said?

There are three answers to that question. The first is that the issues being discussed are complex. People are confused, and with good reason, because the real story is more complicated, not as black and white, not as simple as we like stories to be. The second reason is that bad stories have entertainment value for some people. I'm sorry to say this, because as I said earlier, I believe that the inaccuracies have reached a point where they threaten the coalition of anglers, boaters, hunters, States, and the Fish and Wildlife Service which has been the key to fish and wildlife conservation in our nation for so many years.

The third reason, I fully recognize, is because of who I am. To some people in some parts of the conservation community, I am not one of "you." I am one of "them" because part of my previous career was spent in the Ecological Services programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service. And in that capacity, yes, I had to worry about endangered species. What some people overlook is that I also had to worry about fish ? and not only because we had to list some native fish as endangered, and try to bring back those already listed. I also had responsibilities for Service programs involving FERC dam re-licensing, fish passage issues, contaminants, wetlands, water quality, and habitat restoration through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. Before I joined the Service, I had another life which included fish and wildlife management and recreational opportunities on Army installations. I have been, throughout my career, a stout defender of healthy fish habitats and populations, and a passionate advocate for the conservation of all of our aquatic resources.

Indeed, one of my first acts upon becoming Director of this agency was to bring all parts of the Service that have an interest in fish and aquatic habitats together for a series of meetings. I did that because I wanted to create a stronger fisheries focus. This effort succeeded in getting people in the Fish and Wildlife Service to work more effectively across program lines. My deputy director, John Rogers, and I have also both been strong supporters of the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, which is a powerful force for recreation and for conservation, and for the new Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation which is charged with carrying out the actions recommended through the Partnership Council to enhance fishing and boating. I would like to publicly thank Mike Hayden, Mike Nussman, Norville Prosser, Helen Sevier, Tom Bedell, and a host of other ASA members who have been tireless participants in those efforts.

In rebutting some of what has been said, and written, recently, I would like to start with our Federal Aid program. Earlier this year, the House Resources Committee initiated an audit by the General Accounting Office, or GAO, of the Service's administration of the Federal Aid program. This audit did not look at how States spend their Federal Aid money ? it only looked at the portion of the Federal Aid money which the Service retains for administration of the sport fish and wildlife restoration programs.

By law, the Service is entitled to retain up to 8 percent of the wildlife restoration funds, and up to 6 percent of the sport fish funds, for administration. This year we used a total of about $31 million for administration of the $550 million collected under both programs.

GAO's audit found some deficiencies in the Service's financial and grant management systems for Federal Aid administration. We acknowledge those deficiencies, and if anything useful has come out of this, it is that GAO identified some things that truly do need increased attention. I am personally involved and committed to resolving those issues as speedily as possible. I have formed a Federal/State review team which will make recommendations for improvements by November 15. I have also formed teams of finance, grant, and budget experts from throughout the Service to ensure that all of GAO's concerns, as well as some of our own, are addressed.

Their primary concerns involve the use of Federal Aid funds for administrative grants and for grants from the Director's office. ASA and other organizations received some of these grants ? and I'm proud of the fact that these grants funded National Fishing Week and similar projects that benefitted anglers, boaters, and hunters.

This situation, however, has been blown out of proportion with innuendo, unrestrained language, and unsubstantiated allegations. The Service has been accused of "stealing" sportsmen's dollars for purposes unrelated to conservation, of maintaining a "slush" fund, and other such references. I want to say unequivocally that while I acknowledge the management issues, I strongly object to any implication of corruption or wrongdoing. The GAO has NOT accused the Service of illegality, and indeed testified that the existence of the grant programs was within the Service's discretion.

I do not know what you will be told later in the afternoon, but I would like to make a few things clear:

  • The Service did NOT use administrative funds for a grant to an anti-hunting group, nor did we ever intend to do so.
  • The Service did NOT use Federal Aid money to fund spotted owl preservation or wolf reintroduction - contrary to information disseminated by the some staffers of the House Resources Committee.
  • Federal Aid pays about 8 percent of the Service's overall administrative costs, not 61 percent as claimed by some of the aforementioned staffers. In addition, the Service can track with precision how those Federal Aid dollars were spent.
  • The Service did not "steal" sportsmen's dollars. States and industry groups supported a grant process that would enable the use of Federal Aid funds for projects that benefitted multiple states. A committee of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reviewed administrative grant proposals and recommended which should receive funding.
  • The Service terminated the administrative grant program and the Director's conservation fund because of reductions in Federal Aid administrative funding that resulted from passage of the TEA-21 legislation ? NOT, as some have alleged, because we do not support grassroots fishing programs that we formerly funded with Federal Aid administrative funds.
I am deeply concerned that the inaccurate stories and outrageous statements, based more on righteous ideology than on facts, are threatening to erode the support of anglers, boaters, and hunters for the Federal Aid program which is so crucial to conservation. I have hear a story from a newspaper headlined "Repeal Excise Tax on Hunters." Think about what that would mean for hunting, angling, and conservation. I don't know the agenda of the individuals promoting this story, but as far as I can see it's not about improving fisheries, strengthening conservation, or defending sportsmen, whatever they may say. So I urge all of you to separate fact from allegation and to keep this situation in perspective.

From Federal Aid, I'd like to turn now to fisheries. I think I'll start with the implication that I personally have an anti-fishing bias and that I am fostering such an attitude as official Service policy. There's no way to win when you get that kind of charge thrown at you. So let me say this: I am pro-fish. I am pro-fishing. My record on fisheries conservation is strong. I would like to make it stronger. In that effort, I am committed to working with you.

During the past couple of years I have been working hard within the Administration to build support for our national fish hatcheries and our related aquatic conservation efforts. I hope you will indulge me for a few minutes while I explain the current dilemma to you, as I see it.

First, our National Fish Hatcheries are in dire straits. This is a situation which has been building for years, perhaps for decades. Presently we find ourselves with a $75 million operational deficit and a $218 million maintenance backlog. Our maintenance backlog is 30 times greater than our annual maintenance funding. One in four positions is vacant. Some hatcheries are losing fish, or are unable to raise fish, because of maintenance problems.

National Fish Hatcheries are a vital tool, and we need them. They need not only to be saved, but to be retooled and strengthened to meet the challenges of the coming century. But to be honest, support for hatcheries in the higher councils of government is spotty. Questions have been raised in the scientific community about interactions between hatchery and wild fish. There are concerns about disease, and genetics. Some groups see hatcheries as part of the problem, not part of the solution. From my standpoint, it appears those groups have been more effective in taking their message to Capitol Hill and other influential people than have the advocates of hatcheries, including the Service. In a climate where everyone is concerned about budget caps, this type of opposition makes it harder to get support for increased hatchery funding.

What we needed when I first came on the scene was an education program, and assurances that we are managing our National Fish Hatchery System in a responsible manner. We have taken some important steps in this direction. We have instituted efforts to ensure that our hatcheries are not perceived as ? or in fact causing ? harm. We have been working to demonstrate this and to educate people about hatcheries. Now we're ready to start talking about funding. I personally have been very active recently in educating Departmental and OMB officials regarding the importance of hatcheries and their dire straits. I'll talk about your involvement in that process in a few minutes.

Our top priorities for national fish hatcheries are conservation of native species, mitigation, and support for Tribal fisheries. All are priorities ? but right now, we're not performing any of these functions as well as we should be, because of our funding shortfalls. And this comes at a time when demands on our national fish hatcheries are increasing. It is our belief that conservation of native species -- a very important aspect of the Service's overall mission -- offer the best opportunity for broad funding support by all groups with an interest in fish and aquatic habitats.

There has been criticism that this approach is oriented toward endangered species. So let me tell you what I mean by "conservation of native species." I mean the striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay, which you'll be enjoying during your visit here. I mean lake trout. I mean paddlefish and sturgeon, salmon and steelhead. So please, when I say the word "native," don't hear "endangered." National Fish Hatcheries are working on recovery for endangered species -- sure-- but they are also working on many fish that have recreational value, or that once had recreational value, and will again have recreational value when they are restored.

The growing challenge to conserving such native fish species is illustrated in the current issue of "Conservation Biology." An article by two Canadian researchers finds that extinction rates for North American freshwater animals are five times higher than those for terrestrial animals, and are equal to extinction rates for the tropical rain forests. Whether or not you accept these estimates, clearly there is reason for concern about the food chain and the web of life in our aquatic ecosystems. This is something that should concern everybody who cares about fish, and fishing.

So that brings us back to the problem of what to do. We have a national fish hatchery system that is severely underfunded, while facing increasing demands. We have a continuing decline among many aquatic species. We know we need to work harder on restoring fish passage and fish habitats, so that fish populations can become self-sustaining.

This situation brought us, early this summer, to the realization that the National Fish Hatchery System is in a crisis situation. In the absence of significant additional resources, we are going to have to make hard choices. Perhaps we did not explain our dilemma as fully as we should have. You have heard a great deal of speculation about what we plan to do. Let me address some of those points:

  • We do NOT plan to eliminate recreational fish stocking programs associated with our mitigation activities. However, mitigation is a shared Federal responsibility and we ARE looking at the issue of who pays for those activities. For example, right now the Bonneville Power Administration is providing the Service with $11.5 million for mitigation hatcheries on the lower Snake River. We simply must do more of this. How can we expect to receive more money from Congress, if we haven't shown we're doing everything we can to recover our costs? We will seek, and with your help I believe we will eventually achieve, more complete reimbursement for our mitigation activities.
  • We do NOT plan to stock only native fish. We never said this. There are many locations where native fish simply cannot survive in altered environments.
  • We do NOT plan to close or transfer hatcheries that do not focus on the conservation of native fish. Our goal is to AVOID closing or transferring hatcheries. Without more money, however, we will not be able to avoid such decisions for much longer. That's why we need a long-range blueprint for the hatchery system ? to help make such choices.
  • We do NOT plan to withdraw support from Tribal fisheries. We will look for opportunities to offset our production costs and, over time, to work with Tribes to identify opportunities to substitute native fish for non-natives.
  • We do NOT plan on unilaterally eliminating naturalized populations of sportfish just because they may affect endangered or native fishes. We have a policy, published in the Federal Register in 1996, (which, by the way, I worked on as an Ecological Services biologist), which directs us to balance conservation of endangered species with enhancement of recreational fisheries. This remains our policy.
  • It is NOT true that fisheries is not a priority for me personally. The idea of priorities is that you can't name everything. You won't see "endangered species" in our priorities either, but that doesn't mean the Service doesn't pay attention to endangered species. But in setting my priorities a year or so ago, I did strive to be inclusive. Fisheries are included within the priorities of our national wildlife refuge system, which is offering greater angling opportunities. Fisheries are included within my goal for eliminating invasive species. Fisheries are included within my goal for improved ecosystem conservation. Furthermore, I have been working to secure greater support and funding to begin retooling our National Fish Hatcheries. I cannot talk about the FY 2001 budget, but I hope our efforts will turn out to have been successful. Those of you who care about fish should follow the budget cycle and speak up if you want to see the beginning of a solution to this crisis.
  • It is NOT true that the core issue isn't about money, but about a change in management philosophy toward preservation, not conservation. This is, to use the most polite word I can think of, hogwash. But I will say, without any hesitation or embarrassment, that fish hatcheries are only one part of a healthy fisheries program. I do think habitat restoration, fish passage, and the health of ecosystems overall are critical to the future of fish and fishing. We recognized decades ago that wildlife habitat was essential to the future of hunting. Fish habitat is equally essential to the future of fishing.
To that end, late last week I announced that the Service will be seeking Congressional approval for a restructuring of our Washington Office headquarters. To understand this organization, you need to know that Ecological Services currently includes not only endangered species, but also habitat conservation, contaminants, and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. We will be splitting out the habitat components of Ecological Services and giving those responsibilities to the Assistant Director for Fisheries, so that we will have our fisheries and aquatic habitat responsibilities located together under an Assistant Director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation. Our endangered species function will be located separately, under an Assistant Director for Endangered Species and Marine Mammals.

I hope this proposed new structure will not be misinterpreted by anyone. If you take a moment to think about the change, it is exactly the move we need to give Fisheries all of the tools it needs to more effectively replenish our nation's fisheries and their habitats. Most importantly, it strengthens our fisheries program by combining our fish production, management, and habitat responsibilities together in one group. This, we believe, looks to the future. I am confident that our new Assistant Director, Cathy Short, can lead and strengthen the fisheries program, resolve the problems, and make the changes needed to address both current and future challenges.

And it is the future we need to focus on. I have spent a good deal of time this afternoon responding to the past. But what I want to do is leave you with a vision and a challenge for the future. We are seeking your input in helping us find a solution to the issue before us. I am very grateful to the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council for agreeing to help us in a process that will develop a long-range blueprint for the National Fish Hatchery System.

Several years ago, our National Wildlife Refuges faced a crisis not unlike that facing our aquatic resources and National Fish Hatcheries today. But in many ways, the situation faced by our hatcheries is more serious, because they have, candidly, fewer advocates and less support in important places than did our refuges. In the case of refuges, concerned groups with different views of what the Refuge System should be finally put aside their differences, banded together, and agreed on one thing: refuges needed more funding. They took their voices to Capitol Hill, and the result was a significant strengthening of the underlying legislation and funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

A similar effort is needed on behalf of our national fish hatcheries and our aquatic resources. We need to do a better job of telling the story. We need to educate our constituents and lawmakers about the truly serious threats to aquatic resources. We need to make it clear how important the National Fish Hatchery System is to the future of both conservation and recreation. We need to demand support for habitat restoration, control of invasive species, improved fish passage, and a strengthened hatchery system.

I commend ASA for its good work on the Fishable Waters Act, and I know that some of you have been working on other legislative proposals. I commend that concern and hope the outcome will ensure that what we end up with will, indeed, be a strengthening of our overall conservation efforts for aquatic resources as well as a boost for the Hatchery System.

The truth is that our situation is simple. It's not that Jamie Clark is anti-fishing, or that the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't care about anglers. It's that we have many challenges to address, and not enough money. We have two alternatives: (1) we can look for new sources of income ? and (2) we can set priorities for spending. And that's where the National Fish Hatchery System is. For years, the hatchery system has struggled along trying to be everything to all people. What we've ended up with is a hatchery system in desperate need of repair and modernization ? plus, we see continuing declines in many aquatic species and habitats. We need to look for funding - and we need to set priorities for how to spend that funding.

It is a big challenge. But let's not forget that the hatchery system and the fisheries program have done tremendous work over the years both for fisheries restoration and for recreational angling. The striped bass fishery out here on the Bay is proof of that. What we need to do now is figure out how to build on those successes.

So instead of arguing and challenging each other's dedication to fish and fishing, let's try to turn a negative situation into something positive. Let's commit to working together. The future of fishing depends on it.