The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced in December that it was implementing mid-year budget reductions of $2.2 million.

In a news release, the department reported that the cut would "place a hold on purchases including boats, motors, wildlife management area maintenance equipment and planned software purchases for computer equipment upgrades."

LDWF employees will feel the pinch, but so will the department's constituency, who will not get upgrades to WMAs and whose resources will be less studied and/or protected by the reduction in boat and motor purchases.

The cuts were obviously necessary; otherwise, Sec. Robert Barham wouldn't have made them. But it's clear that $2.2 million is a lot of money.

So is $2.7 million.

That's the amount the department has proposed to spend in fiscal year 2013 to run the proposed saltwater fish hatchery.

How could an agency so strapped for cash come up with an extra $2.7 million to run a fish hatchery?

Well, that's easy. They're going to follow the state's lead and raid the Artificial Reef Program fund.

The department's proposal to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission at its November meeting included spending $938,000 to operate and administer the fund, $2.7 million to run the proposed fish hatchery and only $500,000 to build inshore artificial reefs.

This is after the state helped itself to $27 million from the fund to fill general budget gaps in 2011.

It seems the only thing Artificial Reef Program money is not being used for is building artificial reefs. That's a shame.

Just last month, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program announced it was pooling a $1 million donation from Shell with other money, $2.65 million in total, to rebuild Barataria Bay's Pelican Island, which has shrunk from 200 acres in 1956 all the way down to 5 acres today.

That $2.7 million the department wants to raid from the Artificial Reef Program fund in 2013 — and who knows how much for every year into the future — could be used to build other islands, or at least install reefs, across the coast, rebuilding and securing habitat that will go light years farther toward improving our fishing than dumping a few fry into the water.

Nature floods the marshes every year with far more fry than they could support in a millennium. Our fisheries only decline as the habitat declines. The department needs to spend every spare dime on building more of it.