Budget cuts mean deep-six for National Aquarium

It doesn't rank with, say, the Canada-United States disagreement over fishing rights off the New England coast. But the Reagan administration's apparent decision not to fund the National Aquarium after fiscal 1981 is making a few waves here.

Probably the nation's oldest indoor water museum, dating back to 1873, the aquarium may close next Sept. 30. The Office of Management and Budget has recommended that the $286,000 annual budget of the facility be sliced from the fiscal 1982 budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tucked away in the "lower lobby" (basement) of the US Department of Commerce Building on 14th Street, NW, the aquarium, with its 50 fish tanks, has been bypassed over the years by millions of tourists, their eyes set on the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, or the Smithsonian Institution.

But the facility has its adherents, particularly among local residents, and after the funds cutoff became known they became vocal."Save Our Soles," declared one group of demonstrators. A "Save the Aquarium" organization is developing a national mailing list of supporters.

Attendance has doubled since the proposed closing was announced in early March.

Proposals for salvaging the aquarium include organizing a nonprofit "Friends of the National Aquarium" to raise funds and operate it at no cost to taxpayers; that another agency -- the Smithsonian Institution is mentioned most often -- take over the aquarium.

An aquarium is not in the Smithsonian's plans, says Al Rosenfield, public affairs officer. The institution has other priorities at this time.

There is little likelihood the aquarium's budget will be restored, says Allen Leavitt, public affairs officer of the Fish and Wildlife Service.The service's total budget is being cut by $1.2 million -- and even if some of that were restored, it would not go to th e aquarium, he says.

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