Vermont fish hatcheries in high gear during winter months
Posted on 02/11/2015
Adam Miller Hatchery

Media Contact: Adam Miller, (802) 777-2852
                         

Vermont fish hatcheries in high gear during winter months

 

BENNINGTON, Vt. – While the bitter cold of winter grips Vermont and ice covers many of its world-class fisheries, work at the state’s fish hatcheries is heating up to produce the next batch of fish for spring stocking efforts - an annual initiative that has a major impact on both area angling opportunities and Vermont’s economy.

“A lot of people might not know this, but winter is a very busy and important time for our various hatcheries and the work they do to raise fish,” said Adam Miller, fish culture operations manager with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. 

The fish-rearing process first begins two years prior to fish stocking when highly trained fisheries biologists from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department develop annual plans outlining how many fish will be needed for stocking Vermont’s public waters. They then team up with fish culturists to collect eggs from large “brood” fish in the wild, or at various hatchery sites in the fall months, to meet the stocking needs of the State.

The eggs are then moved into incubators at the hatcheries to develop before eventually hatching into small “sac fry,” also known as alevin. 

“The newly hatched fish are called sac fry because the young fish are still living off a yolk sac attached to their bodies, providing the fish with nourishment,” said Miller. “During the incubation stage, hatchery staff spend a large amount of time caring for the eggs and ensuring that they have the optimal environment to grow, develop and hatch.”

Once the eggs hatch into sac fry, hatchery staff begin to introduce the fish to food.

“Fish must learn to feed before they’ve used up all of their yolk sac or else they’ll die,” Miller said.

Once fish are “on feed,” fish culture staff continue feeding them and cleaning holding tanks - a critical process for providing a healthy, disease-free environment while the fish are developing an immune system.

“Staff work extremely hard, around-the-clock at times, to ensure that these conditions are conducive to proper development,” Miller said.

As winter winds down and spring approaches, hatchery staff prepare for a busy stocking season that will see them not only stocking Vermont waterways with adult fish raised during the previous year, but also moving this year’s young fish into larger rearing environments so they can continue to grow.

“Vermont fish hatcheries produce fish for two main reasons - to restore fisheries and to increase angling opportunities,” said Louis Porter, commissioner of Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “In addition to biologically meeting fisheries management goals, hatchery-raised fish also serve as a great outreach tool to get people involved in fishing and the outdoors.”

In recent years, approximately 6,500 individuals have participated annually in the Children’s Fishing program - a collaborative effort with local sporting clubs across Vermont to provide fish for local fishing events.  The program provides senior citizens, kids, and disabled individuals an increased opportunity of catching fish in an environment favorable to fishing. 

More than 600 people have also participated in the Grand Isle Family Fishing Festival, an annual event where kids learn about fishing and try to catch hatchery-raised fish. 

Additionally, an average of 15,000 people visit Vermont hatcheries each year to see the fish and learn about the fish culture process.

“Stocked fish are also an important economic driver for the State of Vermont,” added Porter. “The 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife survey on hunting, fishing and wildlife-associated recreation, coupled with our 2010 Vermont angler survey, estimated that stocked fish contribute roughly $31.6 million annually in angler expenditures to Vermont’s economy.”

In total, Vermont’s hatchery system - which includes facilities in Newark, Bennington, Grand Isle, Roxbury and Salisbury - produces approximately 1.5 million fish for stocking each year. That number includes a range of species including brook, brown, rainbow, lake and steelhead trout, as well as walleye and landlocked Atlantic salmon.

“By design our hatcheries enable us to properly manage the state’s fisheries, and that’s priority number one,” said Miller. “But it goes beyond that - they’re a symbol of Vermont’s commitment to our natural resources, a wonderful tool for public education and an important component of the state’s history. Three of the five hatcheries are on the National Register of Historic Sites.  They’re really a long-standing part of the environmental fabric of the state and that’s certainly evident during the winter when staff are working tirelessly to raise yet another generation of healthy Vermont fish.”

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Captions for attached Vermont Fish & Wildlife photo:
Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff Adam Miller and Brook Bicking discuss the progress of recent fish rearing efforts at the Bennington Fish Culture Station.