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Walhalla State Fish Hatchery

Your first view of the Walhalla fish hatchery isn’t that different from what you would have seen 70 years ago. The sign is newer of course but the old stone building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s looks much the same as it did when these
old photographs were taken. The circular ponds that you see in these photos were replaced in the late 1950s and early 60s by the raceways that are here today. And it is from these raceways that thousands of rainbow, brook and brown trout find their way into Lake Jocassee in the streams of South Carolina Walhalla state fish hatchery was constructed at the base of Fork Mountain in Oconee County. Much of the water that courses through the buildings and raceways is a gravity-fed flow from Indian Camp Creek and the East Fork of the Chattooga River. The temperature and purity of these sources is slightly different and each is routed to the location for which it is best suited. Considering the power outages that often occur because of our remote location, gravity-powered flow is the way to go. These waters support a year-round operation as spawning, growing and stocking keeps everyone busy depending on the season. Let’s jump right in to one of the race ways along with staff and show you the activity that begins in the fall with the spawning that takes place when the weather cools in October. These female brown trout which were raised on site have been anesthetized to reduce stress on the fish while stripping the eggs. Each fish is held firmly and her eggs are squeezed into a bowl. Each of these three year old females provides three to four thousand eggs. The bowl is then passed down the line to another staffer who adds the milt from a 2 year old male to the soupy mass of orange eggs. A quick stir to make sure egg and sperm can do their work and the bowls are set aside for a few minutes while the next batch of eggs finds its way down the line. It’s a one and done deal for each of these males and females. For the moment they are placed back into the race way to recover, But soon they will catch a ride on a stocking run to a nearby lake or stream to live out their days. This spawning process takes place with brood stock that was raised at the hatchery. These include the brown trout we’ve just seen as well as brook trout and one genetic strain of rainbow trout. After fertilization takes place in the bowls with the eggs and sperm, the unfertilized eggs are separated out and
excess milk that might be coating the remaining eggs is drained off. Then all the eggs are combined and taken over to the original stone hatchery building where they are allowed to water harden before being placed in incubating trays. Each tray contains around 21,000 eggs. The spawning process at Walhalla hatchery produces 70% of the eggs that are used. An additional 600 10,000 eggs are obtained through the US Fish and Wildlife Services National broodstock
Program. After three or four weeks two black dots become visible inside the eggs. These are the fish’s eyes, once the eggs hatch out they are called sac fry and are relocated to the large cement tanks you see all around you. The newly hatched sac fry get their nourishment from yolk sacs or 2 to 3 weeks then they will be ready to eat fish food That time is a busy time for hatchery staff. These young fry may look like tiny versions of adult fish but they can’t swim well enough yet to reach the end of the tank where an automatic feeder might be So staff have to feed them a finely powdered food by hand every hour, every day. Finally when they reach three to four inches long they will be moved to the outside raceways to make room for the fry that are hatching back inside the building. it’s a continuous process of spawning and hatching with each strain and species of trout having a different
timetable. The raceways are managed much like the tanks in the hatchery building. As the trout grow they have to make way for the smaller fish coming in behind them, so they are moved from section to section using a fish counter. The fish counter allows for an accurate and less stressful inventory of the fish and also helps hatchery staff separate the fish into smaller groups in the race ways allowing the fish room to grow. Also like in the indoor tanks they are fed daily although not as often. But as you can see they can swim just fine now, as the raceways erupt in a frenzy of darting and diving in pursuit of food nuggets tossed in by staff. All this in an effort to reach that desired 9 to 12 inches in length for stocking. South Carolina is on the southern edge of preferred habitat for trout so stalking is needed to maintain a viable fishery for the 50,000 anglers who pursue our brookies, browns and rainbows. And the cost of production is only a small fraction of the fourteen point two million dollars that these fishermen pumped into our state’s economy. When stocking time arrives the trout are loaded into specially designed hatchery trucks to keep them healthy for the drive. The truck now has two options depending on where the trout will be stocked. Many streams can be stocked by parking the truck on the bank and the trout enjoy a short flight from the net to the water. The other option involves flying of a different sort. To reach some of the more remote locations in South Carolina, the trout are first driven to a field near the stocking site. They are then transferred to a special bucket beneath a hovering helicopter and are then very dramatically airlifted into the early morning sky. [SOUND OF HELICOPTER] Once the helicopter reaches the designated location on the river, the bucket is gently lowered to the water,
the bottom is opened and the trout spill out, And head for the nearest bit of
shade and shelter. All in all 85% of the trout eggs at Walhalla Hatchery are successfully fertilized. That success results in more than 600,000 trout each year. And don’t forget that fourteen point two million dollar impact on South Carolina’s economy from trout fishing. As impressive as these numbers are perhaps most impressive is how it’s all The result of six committed employees of the Department of Natural Resources here at the walhalla state fish hatchery. [MUSIC]

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