Bush looks to boost budget for fisheries - Interior secretary tells Fish and Wildlife staffers of plans to fight invasive species



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush will propose a 16 percent increase in spending to restore and improve the nation's fisheries, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said yesterday.

In a speech to employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Norton said the budget Bush will propose next month includes $58 million for the National Fish Hatchery System -- up from $50 million in the current budget year.

The president also will seek increased spending to combat invasive species such as the voracious northern snakehead found last year and later eradicated from a suburban Maryland pond, Norton said.

Norton said the proposed increase was a direct result of improvements made in the fisheries program, which has been plagued for years by lawsuits, excessive paperwork and poor coordination with other agencies and with groups such as sportsmen and Indian tribes.

"Help is on the way," Norton told about 500 Fish and Wildlife workers at a national conference. "You have labored to come up with a strategic plan that has convinced Washington that it is time to increase your funding. Now it is going to be up to you to . . . follow through."

Norton was referring to a plan developed by the agency to emphasize greater coordination among state and federal agencies, as well as tribes, conservation groups and the fishing industry.

The new "Strategic Vision" states that successful fishery management is achieved best through partnerships. It includes a set of criteria for agency programs, including the likelihood of measurable results and significant economic or social benefits.

Daniel Diggs, assistant fisheries director for the agency's Pacific Northwest office, called the initiative a "jumping-off point" to reconnect with the agency's traditional partners, including some it has been at odds with for years.

"Everything we do requires working with others," Diggs said. "We can't get anything done by ourselves, so this is very exciting."

As outlined by Norton, the proposed spending increase includes $2.5 million for hatchery restoration projects, such as the juvenile spring chinook in Oregon.

An additional $3 million would improve aging pumps, pipelines and electrical systems, and $1.5 million would increase hatchery production for threatened species, such as pallid sturgeon and greenback cutthroat trout.

The proposed budget would spend $5.5 million on invasive species -- up from $4.5 million this year.

Norton described the snakehead, found last summer in Crofton, Md., as "this fish that eats all the other fish in a pond, and then crawls over to the next pond, where it also eats all the fish."

"Maybe," she added, "it does belong in Washington after all."


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