BP Disaster Environment Pensacola

Hayward uses Upwords newsletter to challenge WEAR TV report on fish hatchery

January 7, 2014

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s thin skin was exposed again this week when he used his office’s digital newsletter to go after Jan. 2 report that aired on WEAR TV that questioned the fish hatchery the mayor’s wants to have built on the city’s waterfront next to the Community Maritime Park.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida want to develop the $19 million hatchery. Hayward will lease them land on Bruce Beach for a dollar a year.

In recent months, several locals have begun to question the project both from economic development and environmental perspectives. In 2013, Hayward pushed to renegotiate city contracts at Pitts Slip and Maritime stadium. However, he is ready to give away more waterfront property for only a $1 for a project that only creates about a dozen jobs.

One of the main functions of the facility will be to breed and release fish into the water. Environmentalist Christian Wagley has questioned the real benefit of such hatcheries to the our environment.

“A number of us have done research on fish hatcheries around the country,” Wagley told WEAR, “And it’s really a mixed record. They’ve had a lot of issues where the hatcheries haven’t worked out at all.”

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation investigated the fish hatcheries proposed for Louisiana and issued a resolution against them.

To date, Hayward has held no public forums on the project, even though he has been negotiating the land giveaway since 2011. As has often been the case with the first-term mayor  when his actions have been questioned, Hayward doubled down on the hatchery with his newsletter:

Last week, local TV station WEAR ran a story about the proposed Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center, which I’ve been working to bring to Pensacola’s Bruce Beach. I strongly support this project as a key component of our economic and environmental recovery from the damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In addition to the 12-15 permanent jobs created by this facility, an additional 20-30 construction jobs will be created, representing more than 1,900 worker-days. Once online, the facility is also expected to create new jobs in the commercial fishing and tourism industries.

WEAR’s story raised a number of questions about the effectiveness and impact of the proposed facility. Unfortunately, while my office shared all the facts with WEAR’s reporter, a lot of important information didn’t make it into the report. I know that it can be challenging to fit everything into a two-minute story, but it’s important to me that our citizens are well-informed, so I wanted to take a moment to share the facts with you directly.

While WEAR’s story focused on the fish hatchery component, there’s a lot more to this project. The proposed Hatchery and Enhancement Center would be a flagship facility which would help diversify our downtown waterfront, provide a destination for visitors, and further bolster Pensacola’s growing reputation as a center for research and innovation. An integrated coastal habitat plant production pond will provide source plants for ecosystem restoration. In partnership with the University of West Florida, the hatchery will conduct research to support the Gulf Coast ecosystem. Additionally, there will be educational opportunities provided for students throughout the region, and the center will also recognize the history and heritage of the Bruce Beach site.

Many of the technical and environmental questions that have been raised have been addressed in considerable detail in the NRDA draft restoration plan and environmental impact report, available online at the Gulf Spill Restoration Portal. As we examine the project, it’s also important to note that the Hatchery and Enhancement Center is one of more than 40 interconnected restoration projects currently being considered, including millions in funding for seagrass recovery, living shoreline projects, and more. Taken separately, none of these projects is a cure-all, but together, these projects will have a tremendous impact toward restoring the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

Those who know me know that I am a strong believer in doing due diligence. The multiple federal and state agencies which comprise the NRDA trustees – including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture – are thoroughly vetting each of these projects both separately and as a whole. Scientists and other experts are working to ensure that the projects selected represent our best opportunity to restore both our natural resources and coastal economy.

The mayor did not set up a public meeting for citizens to ask him about the hatchery. Instead he invited them to attend the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trustees meeting that will be held at 6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Pensacola Bay Center.

“I’m extremely excited about our proposed Hatchery and Enhancement Center and the tremendous benefits it will provide for Pensacola and the greater Gulf Coast community,” he said in the city newsletter. “I hope you share my excitement, and I’ll continue to update you on this project and others as we work together to take our community upward in 2014.”



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  • Dale Parker January 7, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Given the volume of the Gulf of Mexico I am not sure what impact a few thousand fish will have. It is much different statistically then stocking ponds or trout streams. Kinda like a the impact of adding 2 deer to the state of Alabama during hunting season.

    The bigger question; is this the best use for acreage on the waterfront? If this was marketed properly what kind of property taxes would it generate helping the failing CRA and broke city coffers. I think that our freshwater fisheries would see a bigger impact. Bayous, with trout, etc. for that, UWF is in a far better position to impact those waterways.

    I think it is a positive idea, just not the best use of our highly valuable city assets and their capacity to generate jobs.

    Also, over 20 million in property and cash and the loss of 100’s of thousands in property taxes for 10 jobs!!! Seriously no one sees this as a bit expensive?

  • Drew Buchanan January 7, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Christian, thanks for your input and being so passionate about this. Look forward to the seeing what’s presented at the city council meeting this week. I do think the hatchery, if done right, can viably be one part of a collection of projects to restore not just our ecosystems, but our community and economy as well.

  • Christian Wagley January 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for IN’s coverage and for all the good discussion here. The hatchery has officially been considered by the City Council only once–at a special meeting in June, 2011. Many of us feel that with all the scientific information coming out that seriously questions the viability of marine fish hatcheries in general, and one in NW Florida in particular, that more discussion is needed. At Thursday night’s Council meeting they will consider a proposal to ask their Environmental Advisory Board to gather more information on the merits of the proposal. (The EAB was defunct when the hatchery was considered in 2011, but is now functioning.)

    The more research we do the more we find scientific research questioning the validity of hatcheries for enhancing otherwise stable populations of sportfish. From the Louisiana Wildlife Federation resolution:

    “…the Louisiana Wildlife Federation concludes that construction of a saltwater fish hatchery will provide no measurable impact on the presence and abundance of fish in comparison with natural reproduction and is therefore an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars which would be better spent on fishery habitat restoration.”

    Researchers in TX found:

    “The answer to the question of hatchery success is very complex with many components to address. All that is really known is that sometimes stocked fish survive to enter the recreational fishery, sometimes they do not. Are the stocked fish actually enhancing the natural population or is it a replacement issue? Additional research is needed to address this question more precisely.”

    (So after decades of hatchery releases of 600 million fish and tens of millions spent, scientists say hatchery fish might just be displacing native fish rather than actually increasing the numbers of fish)

    Source: Vega, R.R., Neill, W.H., Gold, J.R., and Ray, M.S. (2011) Enhancement of Texas sciaenids (red drum and spotted seatrout). In: Interactions of Fisheries and Fishing Communities related to Aquaculture (R. Stickney, R. Iwamoto, and M. Rust, eds.). Proceedings of the 38th U.S.-Japan Aquaculture Panel Symposium, Corpus Christi, Texas, October 26-27, 2009. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-113, p. 85-92.

    And from a fisherman’s organization as quoted in The Gainesville Sun:

    “Anglers and other conservationists embrace hatcheries as a tool, but fear they could become a crutch. They would rather see more focus on habitat protection, because nature is more efficient than the lab.
    ‘There are so many people that believe that hatcheries are the answer that when I hear it, it kind of makes my spine tingle,’ said Rick Roberts, executive director of Snook Foundation, an angler-based conservation group.


    Considering the body of information from anglers, conservationists, and scientists, the picture becomes ever-clearer: Fish hatcheries for enhancing otherwise stable populations–as is the case in NW Florida–appears to be an attempt at better fisheries using the placebo effect rather than science and common sense. Restoring water quality and habitat will lead to far more sportfish in our local waters.

  • Drew Buchanan January 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Thanks Rick. I think many do agree, being such a large and expensive project (the $18M hatchery is the most expensive project announced so far in Florida) that another public town hall is needed.

  • Amanda January 7, 2014 at 10:53 am

    They did have a town hall about the hatchery last September at Sanders Beach, I was in the audience

  • Drew Buchanan January 7, 2014 at 10:10 am

    “Thin skin”

    The juvenile jabs are getting a little old, Rick.

    This is an unfair argument. I’m always skeptical, myself – but the government side of the project deserves to have it’s side fairly told. I had a conversation with WEAR’s Joe Douglass last night and he mentioned he seeked out comment from the Mayor and FWC but he produced and aired the story before either got back to him. Instead of waiting on a non-breaking news story to get comment for the city or state, WEAR decided to air the story without a fair balance of both sides on the issue.

    I’m open to both sides of the debate on this use of the land and funds, but I’ve yet to see any hard data that this hatchery and research facility won’t succeed – either from conversation with Mr. Wagley himself or others I’ve spoke to.

    The “8-12 jobs” number is also a weak argument. If successful, many jobs would be created through increased through the fishing and tourism industries.

    It’s also important to remember, that this is only one project among many to restore and sustain lost habitats, including the living shoreline project and others that includes Escambia bay.

    Many locals believe this will be a wise project due to it’s multiple uses to the environment and community – not only as a hatchery but a research lab that to work with academia and universities, a marketable tourism facility to educate locals and visitors on the importance of habitat restoration along with creating opportunity for more development downtown and in the under-served side of Pensacola.

    More info on hatchery here: http://www.supportfloridasportfish.com/Gulf%20Coast%20Marine%20Fisheries%20Hatchery%20%2526%20Enhancement%20Center

    • Rick Outzen January 7, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Why doesn’t the mayor hold a town hall meeting and tell us about the project? He can answer questions and the public can offer their input. The “many locals” can offer their support, too. And environmentalists can weigh in.

      Let’s have an open debate, as you suggest, and have the mayor in attendance.

      Someone who is “thin skin” wouldn’t want the debate to happen. Maybe the mayor will surprise me and allow feedback, input and answer questions on this in a town hall meeting.

  • CJ Lewis January 7, 2014 at 9:17 am

    This issue should be considered in two parts. First, is this really a good idea? The case seems weak at best. Second, if this is a good idea – where is the best place in Escambia County to put the hatchery? Should it be built on some of the most valuable waterfront public land in the City of Pensacola? That does not seem like a very smart idea. We are repeatedly told about the important role to be played by the University of West Florida. Is there any reason the hatchery could not be on Escambia Bay in bike riding distance of the University of West Florida? More transparency and less backroom secret deals would be good on this matter.

  • Amanda January 7, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Why does the mayor telling his side of the story = having a thin skin? I’m not 100% convinced about the hatchery idea but I haven’t seen any other ideas put forward…

    • Rick Outzen January 7, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Thin-skin comes from using a newsletter – that allows no interaction with the public – to sell his plan. The newsletter is more an attack on the media (WEAR TV 3) that giving the citizens all the details on the project.

      A better way to inform the public is hold a town hall meeting, invite people to ask questions and offer other ideas. Sadly that town hall meeting should have been held in 2011 before the hatchery got this far in the process.

      The mayor also hired the real estate firm CBRE to analyze all city land. What was that company’s analysis of the marketability of Bruce Beach? Is the hatchery the best and highest use?

      And the biggest question: where is the consistency in the mayor’s policies?

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