West Virginia fish hatcheries and fish stockings began in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that larger hatcheries were built, and fish production and stocking began to increase. The purpose of the hatchery program is to provide gamefish for recreational angling opportunities. Without the hatchery program, many of the state’s waters would not sustain recreational sport fishing at the current level. This is especially true for most stocked trout waters due to increased temperatures during summer months that prevent fish from surviving year around.
WVDNR currently manages and operates nine fish hatcheries statewide. Seven of these hatcheries are cold water and include the Bowden, Edray, Petersburg, Reeds Creek, Ridge, Spring Run and Tate Lohr hatcheries. These cold-water hatcheries rear trout species including rainbow trout, golden rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout and tiger trout. The two warm-water hatcheries are Apple Grove and Palestine hatcheries. These facilities raise warm-water species that commonly include walleye, musky, channel catfish, blue catfish, striped bass and hybrid striped bass. Additional warm-water species are cultured and stocked when fish biologists identify specific needs. Annual fish stocking from all WVDNR hatcheries averages more than two million fish per year.
WVDNR has several trout hatcheries that culture and maintain their own brood stock for spawning. After spawning, eggs and fingerling trout are provided to the remaining hatchery facilities for grow-out. Rainbow and golden rainbow trout are spawned starting in August, with brown and brook trout spawned in September and October, respectively. Trout eggs are hatched indoors and grown to fingerling size prior to moving to outside pools and/or raceways. Fingerling trout are moved outside as soon as raceways and pools are emptied and sanitized during the spring stocking season. Fingerlings are then reared to catchable size for the following spring stocking. At the time of stocking, most catchable sized trout are 1 1/2 years old with a target weight of three quarters of a pound.
Warmwater fish are cultured through several sources: collecting wild brood stock, the purchase of eggs or fry from a private vendor or trading surplus of various species with other state agencies. Wild brood fish are spawned at the two warm-water hatcheries and then returned to the wild at the location of collection. Once eggs are hatched for warm-water fish species, the young fry are placed in grow-out ponds until they reach fingerling size. Ponds are drained in early summer and the collected fingerlings are distributed to various waters across the state. Some of the ponds are not drained and the fingerling fish are grown to a larger size, known as advanced fingerlings; the additional growth increases their survival and helps with avoiding predation. These advanced fingerlings are stocked during the fall.
The allotment of fish stocked in a body of water is primarily determined by its size and acreage. In the trout stocking program, annual allotment is determined by multiplying the water acreage included in the stocking area by number of fish to be stocked per acre annually. This is referred to as the stocking factor. The stocking factor can vary throughout the stocking season and is based on the pounds of trout available in the hatchery system for stocking. Changing the stocking factor means all stocked waters are adjusted to receive more or less pounds of trout on an equal basis. This allotment method makes for fair and equitable fish distribution across all waters statewide.
The other factor considered in distribution of fish is the stocking suitability. Stocking suitability ranges from zero to one and is a measure of numerous biological and sociological factors. One of the main considerations when determining the stocking suitability is the number of available stocking locations and angler access to the stream or lake for fishing. Other factors include the availability of parking, bathroom facilities, public versus private stream-side ownership, and the potential impact to other species and the ecosystem.
The frequency of stocking incorporates variables such as distribution/location distance from a facility, allotment designated to the water body, waters located in similar areas, truck capacity and staffing. Trout stocking allotment determines the pounds of trout stocked annually in each water. Therefore, if a body of water receives weekly trout stockings, the total annual allotment is divided by 16 (the number of weeks in the spring stocking season). Waters receiving biweekly stockings would be divided by eight, and monthly stocked waters divided by four. Therefore, an increase in stocking frequency means the number of stockings increase but the number of fish stocked annually remains the same.
Warm-water game fish species are usually stocked annually. Most fingerlings are stocked in May and June. However, advanced fingerlings are retained at the hatchery and stocked during the fall. These advanced fingerlings have greater survival when stocked but are difficult and costly to culture and require the obligation of hatchery space for a much longer time period.
Fish food is the biggest cost in rearing fish. Most fish food is used at trout hatcheries because fish are reared to about 1 1/2 years of age prior to stocking. The distribution and stocking of fish across the entire state is also a significant expenditure. High weight capacity trucks and customized tanks that provide aerations to fish during transport are essential pieces of equipment to ensure fish arrive safely to and healthy at their destination. Hatchery facilities also have large maintenance costs to ensure equipment and buildings are operating adequately and efficiently. Additionally, there are 40 full-time staff members and temporary seasonal employees working every day of the year to make it all happen.
Based on annual production records, the average cost of stocking a single catchable sized trout ranges between $3 and $4. The cost of stocking warm-water fish varies widely because most are stocked as fingerlings, spending less time at the hatchery with less stocking frequency.
Funding for WVDNR hatcheries is provided by license buyers and matching funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration program. Funds from license and trout stamp purchases finance the hatchery program. Revenue received from trout stamp purchases only covers about one-quarter of the annual hatchery operation costs. The remainder of the funding comes from the Sport Fish Restoration Program. Sport Fish Restoration funds are acquired through the excise tax on fishing equipment manufacturing. These collected taxes go directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are then distributed back to WVDNR specifically for hatcheries and fish management programs. No general revenue money from state income or sales tax is available to WVDNR, and 100 percent of license revenue from anglers goes directly back to fish culture and management.
Many challenges are at hand when conducting intense fish culture practices. The biggest challenge at any hatchery facility is water supply. Trout hatcheries must have an extremely large water supply with water temperatures near 55 degrees. Trout require large amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe adequately and can die when water temperatures start getting above 70 degrees. During summer months with limited rainfall, decreases in water flow to hatchery facilities severely impact trout health and growth. Hatchery staff commonly install additional aeration units and equip rearing units with liquid oxygen to help the trout survive the low-oxygen conditions resulting from limited water. The staff may also need to limit food and, in some cases, temporarily suspend feeding. When fish feed, they consume more oxygen and create waste and chemical by-products that can cause toxic conditions when flows are not adequate to support good water quality. Therefore, cool, wet summer conditions mean larger fish for stocking the next spring while summer drought conditions result in limited growth.
Warm-water hatcheries also have many challenges directly attributed to weather conditions. Hot, dry summers can limit oxygen availability in grow-out ponds and often results in algal growth that can be toxic. Fish can also become tangled in algae and vegetation when ponds are harvested. Because warm-water fish species have an optimal growth temperature much higher than trout, extended periods of cold weather not only reduce the fish feeding activity but also hinder the reproduction and growth of micro-organisms that are a food source for young fish in grow out ponds.
Many types of bacteria, fungus, and viruses can infect hatchery reared fish. Fish species at both warm-water and cold-water hatchery facilities are susceptible to disease risks and must be monitored daily for any signs of infection from potential pathogens. One of the most common sources of fish disease in hatcheries comes from birds and animals visiting the facility. Birds and other animals carry diseases from wild fish and can spread the disease throughout the facility. Additionally, the birds and animals pose a significant predatory threat to fish at the facilities. Bio-security protocols and hatchery procedures to prevent disease are critical to keep fish populations healthy and growing.
Learn More About Fish Stocking in West Virginia
Aquatic resource education and communication are critical components of the DNR’s fisheries management programs. DNR-sponsored youth and family-oriented fishing events are popular, especially during National Fishing and Boating Week and West Virginia’s Free Fishing Days in June. DNR staff work with other organizations and communities to develop fishing and education opportunities. The Governor’s Youth in the Outdoors and DNR’s Becoming an Outdoorswoman programs are successful in introducing new participants to fishing and educating anglers of the future.
DNR fisheries staff are continuously working to improve communication. New outreach efforts will help us to explain what we do as fisheries managers. We are also committed to strengthening partnerships with other state and federal agencies, and groups with sport fishing interests to cooperatively develop research, public access, and habitat enhancements.
Regulations represent one tool that fisheries managers utilize to provide sustainable recreational fishing opportunities and protect fishery resources. Generally, the purposes of recreational fishing regulations address one or more of three broad areas. First, a regulation may be intended to prevent over-harvest of a sport fish population, especially larger fish that many anglers value. Second, regulations like daily creel limits may be established to distribute harvest among anglers. Third, regulations may be required to protect a rare species or control harmful exotic species.
The DNR is careful to collect adequate biological information and to consider angler attitudes and preferences before recommending regulation changes. The agency’s management goal is to balance the obligation to protect sport fish populations and other aquatic resources while providing a diverse array of recreational fishing opportunities throughout the state.
Public Access Development
Providing access to public waters is a primary objective of the DNR. More than 200 public access sites on streams, rivers, and lakes are now available to anglers. The DNR also partners with other agencies and local governments to construct boat access facilities and shoreline fishing trails. Access for physically challenged anglers is an important component of the access development program. The Physically Challenged Handicapped Advisory Board provides useful information to the DNR about locating and designing accessible sites.
Warm Water Hatchery Program
The Division of Natural Resources seeks to provide a variety of angling opportunities to meet increasing demands on our recreational fisheries, while also conserving and protecting this vital resource. One way that the DNR addresses this need is through its fish hatchery programs. Many anglers are aware of the successful trout hatchery and stocking program that provides and enhances fishing in small impoundments and streams statewide. The state’s warmwater hatchery and stocking program, although a little less well known, is extremely significant to all West Virginia anglers.
West Virginia’s warmwater hatchery program has been instrumental in providing fishing opportunities to anglers for nearly 60 years. For most of that time, the Palestine Hatchery was the state’s primary facility dedicated to the production of warmwater species. Millions of walleye, musky, tiger musky, channel catfish, hybrid striped bass, saugeye, sunfish, and largemouth and smallmouth bass have been raised over the years at Palestine Hatchery, and stocked into streams and lakes across the state. Consequently, the Palestine Hatchery has been a key to most of West Virginia’s fishery management successes.
A recent addition to the hatchery program, the Apple Grove Hatchery in Mason County, will further enhance the DNR’s fish production capabilities providing increased angling opportunities to West Virginia’s anglers. This new facility has 34 ponds totaling 43 acres and a 5-acre water supply reservoir that nearly doubles the DNR’s fish production capabilities. A modern, 9,300 square-foot hatchery building will further improve fish production efforts enhancing the DNR’s ability to spawn, rear, and ultimately stock fish into West Virginia’s waters. Musky, tiger musky, walleye, channel catfish, and other species will be raised at Apple Grove Hatchery.
The Apple Grove and Palestine hatcheries are vital to the DNR’s ability to provide fish for recreational angling and restoration efforts throughout West Virginia. These facilities in conjunction with modern and science-based fishery management efforts conducted by the DNR’s staff fishery biologists will be key to enhancing the state’s recreational fisheries for the enjoyment of all.
Research and Surveys
Current warmwater fisheries survey projects on lakes and rivers focus on three basic areas: 1) population structure and angler harvest; 2) movement within rivers and streams; and 3) the effectiveness of stocking. Black bass, walleye, channel catfish, and muskellunge are the species targeted in these assessments. The West Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation and Muskies Inc. provide assistance with some projects. Trout research conducted by WVU and funded by the DNR includes habitat evaluation and restoration projects on Shavers Fork and other native brook trout streams.
Habitat Improvement and Restoration
A number of projects have been initiated to improve habitat in West Virginia waters. Long-standing projects such as placing recycled Christmas trees in reservoirs and adding limestone sand to streams for water quality improvement continue. New efforts include working with the West Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation to establish vegetation in reservoirs, and the development of bass spawning habitat structures for the Ohio River.
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