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Councilwoman, environmentalists question $19 million fish hatchery proposal

Updated: Thursday, January 2 2014, 10:24 PM CST
Councilwoman, environmentalists question $19 million fish hatchery proposal story image
PENSACOLA - A proposed fish hatchery on Pensacola Bay is close to getting BP funding, but some are asking if it will even be effective.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida want to develop the $19 million hatchery. Mayor Ashton Hayward began lease negotiations with them in June of 2011. And this past May, the project made the draft plan for phase three oil spill restoration.

City Councilwoman Sherri Myers says much more needs to be known before the deal to build the hatchery is finalized.

The plan is to build the hatchery on Bruce Beach just west of Community Maritime Park.

One of the main functions of the facility will be to breed and release fish into the water, but some environmentalists say that's basically pointless.

"You can dump fish out there all day long, and without the habitat, the fish are not gonna survive, they're not gonna reproduce," said Christian Wagley, an environmental consultant and fisherman, who advises a number of organizations, including Escambia County.

Wagley says he and other environmentalists are not sold on the benefits of the proposed hatchery.

"A number of us have done research on fish hatcheries around the country," Wagley said, "And it's really a mixed record. They've had a lot of issues where the hatcheries haven't worked out at all."
   
Wagley says the money allocated for the hatchery would be better spent on restoring our local habitat, particularly in planting sea grass.

"We're missing more than 90 percent of the sea grass beds we've had historically," Wagley said, "And if you don't have sea grass beds you can never have healthy habitats and healthy fisheries."
   
State authorities say habitat restoration will be one of the main functions of the hatchery, though Wagley doubts their plan will be effective.

"This project really appears to be coming from politics in Tallahassee than from any science," Wagley said.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission says the hatchery will only release fish into areas where they can survive.
   
City Councilwoman Sherri Myers, meanwhile, says the lease deal with the state has not yet been finalized, and that much more needs to be known before the city moves forward. Myers wants the city's Environmental Advisory Board to take a closer look at all the issues associated with the hatchery. She's expected to make that request at a council meeting next week.Councilwoman, environmentalists question $19 million fish hatchery proposal
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