Brood Stock Hatcheries Send Ripples Across Nation's Waters


Mar 11, 2001
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Brood Stock Hatcheries Send Ripples Across Nation's Waters

by Craig Springer,

Early morning sunlight streaks over the brushy high plains of southern Wyoming. Gray-green scrub is bent by incessant wind. And as Pat Malone drives to work every morning, he's probably no different than you. Between gears he skims over miles of AM radio static for something better, all the while thinking about tackling the tame and mundane tasks ahead. But when he passes through the office door, that's where the similarity stops. His workday plays out to the sounds of rippling water and discordant din of pumps. The pungent smell of fish fills the air.

Malone works at Saratoga National Fish Hatchery, one of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's trout brood stock hatcheries--hatcheries that produce fertile fish eggs to be hatched elsewhere, grown out, and stocked primarily for fishing. And although Malone's job of keeping pumps and essential gear in working order confines him to the hatchery, the fruits of his and his three coworker's labor has an influence that extends far beyond this tiny portion of Wyoming. Saratoga National Fish Hatchery produces fish eggs-eventual fish that folks will try to catch as far away as Arizona and New York.

Each year Saratoga produces up to 3.5 million brown trout eggs, with half going to the USFWS mitigation hatcheries. These hatcheries were intended to make up for, or mitigate, the sport fisheries lost to dams built by the federal government for flood control and electric power production. The remaining brown trout eggs from Saratoga go to Indian tribes and states to support sport fishing. A small portion of eggs go to research facilities where, for example, they are used to assay chemicals for controlling parasitic lampreys.

Brown trout is but one species kept at Saratoga. Malone and his co-workers also work with the largest trout in North America, the lake trout. Lakers were once abundant in the Great Lakes and sustained a commercial fishery for some time. But overharvest and accidental invasion of the parasitic sea lamprey struck a one-two punch; laker populations hit the canvas. But that's a trend the hatchery plays a pivotal part in reversing.

Fortunately, in the 1890s lake trout had been transported by railcars from Lake Michigan to Cinnabar, Montana, and then by pack horse to Lewis and Shoshone lakes in Wyoming. Descendants of the Lewis Lake transplants were the eventual seed for a brood stock that's helping lake trout recover as far away in the Great Lakes. Adult lake trout are spawned every five years or so at Lewis Lake, then the eggs are taken back to the hatchery to keep the brood stock robust and viable.

It's apparently working. Since 1986, Lewis Lake-strain lake trout have been stocked in Lake Huron with measured success according to Jerry McClain, USFWS fish biologist. McClain's Alpena Fishery Resources Office monitors the Huron fishery.

"They're surviving well," said McClain. "They're avoiding sea lamprey, reaching adulthood, and showing up on spawning reefs."

There's another place Lewis Lake-strain fish are showing up--the ice chest. McClain notes that based on tagging studies, 75 percent of lake trout angled from Huron originally came from the Saratoga hatchery.

McClain adds, "Charter boat operators like them, and the states and tribes want to bring back the lake trout. This natural top-predator of the Great Lakes is a great fit."

The Saratoga facility has a fortunate circumstance in common with another brood stock hatchery, Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Ennis, Montana. Both are free of whirling disease, thanks in part to careful monitoring by the USFWS Bozeman Fish Health Center. Whirling disease is insidious and in far too many trout waters across the U.S. Young trout are most vulnerable to this sometimes debilitating disease. Fish Health biologist, Ken Peters, says that monitoring fish health is but a small part in disease prevention.

"Protecting the water supply, and careful consideration by hatchery managers in keeping sanitary conditions goes a long way in keeping a healthy brood stock," noted Peters. "Clean facilities means clean fish."

And both hatcheries have been successful; between the two of them, millions of clean trout eggs are produced and distributed for fishing across the U.S. Rainbows are the primary species produced at Ennis. Twenty million eggs of six strains of rainbow trout are produced there annually.

"Brood stock hatcheries seem to work in the shadows--the combined effect of these two national fish hatcheries is tremendous," said Steve Brimm, the USFWS National Brood Stock Coordinator. "Our facilities are the source of brown, rainbow, and lake trout eggs that benefits people in 30-plus states."

Brimm notes that a well-coordinated distribution of fish eggs assures high genetic integrity of fish and a low occurrence of disease. Moreover, fish coming from brood stock hatcheries stimulate the economy.

"Fishing is big business in the U.S.," remarked Brimm. "There is a multiplier effect in the economy; a dollar spent growing fish produces that many more dollars in the economy."

A recent peer-reviewed economic study bears that out. According to USFWS economist, Dr. Jim Caudill, mitigation trout hatcheries in the Southeast, many of whom get trout eggs from Ennis and Saratoga, are a huge stimulus to the economy.

"Stocking trout in the southern tailwaters below dams is like pouring fertilizer on plants," said Dr. Caudill. "Stimulate the roots a little and the return is a bounty of fruit."

That bounty is reaped at the cash register and the county treasurer's office. For every dollar the USFWS spends raising trout in the Southeast, it generates $141.00 in economic effects and up to $7.85 in state and federal taxes.

Besides putting coin in the coffer, Brimm points to another valuable trait of the brood stock hatcheries not easily measured: know-how. When a wild stock of fish gets in trouble, it's the technical know-how from brood stock hatcheries that's put to use. Hatcheries play a huge role in imperiled species conservation. Cases in point--Arctic grayling, Apache trout, lake trout, coaster brook trout, and greenback cutthroat trout conservation.

"Our greenback brood stock under development at Saratoga will play a significant role in the Colorado Division of Wildlife's effort to bring this trout back from near extinction," said Malone. "Successes with greenbacks are mounting and it could be the first fish ever taken off the endangered species list."

A significant achievement indeed, and in the end, the American people will benefit by having an intact ecosystem, and yes, more opportunity to go fish.

As Malone turns out the lights and locks the door to head home, the ramifications of the workday are barely perceptible. Fact is, however, work at this small spot in southern Wyoming will send ripples across the surface of far away waters and positively affect the lives of many people Malone will never meet.
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