chamber of commerce

Hatchery improvements and stocking season begins
Friday, April 09, 2004
April 1st always seems to play a cruel hoax on fisherman. The law book says that it is time for fishing, but the ice on lakes and ponds says that ice fishing would be a more appropriate pastime.

This year was no exception as fisherman had few bodies of open water which to fish. Cold temperatures and rain also made conditions far from ideal.

But like every April 1, there were anglers out on the banks and on the river. And although the bite was slow, there were people rewarded with that first fish of the season. Of course many more didn't get that first fish, but just being out there, knowing that winter was in its waning days was more than enough.

Along with the opening of fishing season, comes the beginning of the stocking season for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Each year the Department stocks well over one million trout and salmon in waters throughout the state.

Stocking Season Begins
Right now, trout and salmon hatcheries around the state are gearing up for the spring stocking season. Over 500,000 trout and salmon ranging in size from 8-12 inches will be placed in the waterways around the state. The first fish of the season were stocked earlier this week. An ambitious stocking program this past fall means hundreds of thousands of trout and salmon are already in waterways around the state.

Trucks from the Dry Mills Hatchery in Gray headed to York County this past week as many of the rivers and some of the other bodies of waters were stocked. Currently there are plans for stocking waterways in York, Oxford and Cumberland County throughout April. By the time spring stocking has concluded, trout and salmon will have been placed in over 700 ponds, lakes streams and rivers around the state.

"This is the busy time for the hatcheries. Once open water season starts, the trucks start moving. We start stocking in the southern part of the state, and as waters start to open up, we start to move north," said Steve Wilson, Superintendent of Fish Hatcheries for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Most of the fish stocked early in the season are brought by truck to their destination, then either sluiced into the waterway, or on larger bodies of water, loaded into tanks and brought by boat to deeper water where they are released. Later in the season, fish will be stocked by plane, and even backpacked into remote ponds. Last year, 747 waterways were stocked with over one million fish from state hatcheries.

A complete list of waters that we stocked this past year is available at the Information Center at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at 284 State Street in Augusta, or on the department web site at www.mefishwildlife.com. It is also available at our regional offices throughout the state. This report lets anglers know what body of water fish were stocked, how many fish were stocked, how big they were and when they were stocked.

New Hatchery Improvements mean more fish
In November of 2002, voters approved a bond package that included $7 million to improve the state's aging hatchery system. The monies will fund renovations and enhance wastewater treatment. These upgrades will allow us to modernize our facilities as well as increase the numbers and quality of the fish that we produce.

"With these improvements, we will be stocking more fish," said Wilson, "We will be able to increase our production, and raise healthier, larger trout. By producing more fish, we will be able to stock more waters, and stock other waters multiple times, increasing opportunities for anglers."

Already work is completed installing an oxygen enhancement system in the Governor Hill Hatchery in Augusta. A large storage tank of liquid oxygen is on site, and it feeds a low head oxygen unit which mixes the oxygen with water, then releases it into the raceways where the fish live.

By increasing the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, we are able to grow not only more fish, but grow them faster and with less risk of disease. It also increases the quality of the water that is discharged out of the hatcheries.

Work on other oxygen enhancement systems at our Casco, Palermo, Dry Mills and Enfield hatcheries has begun, and should be completed and online by mid summer.

The next phase of the improvement package will be installing better wastewater treatment facilities at the Enfield, Palermo and Casco hatcheries. The water that comes out of our hatcheries has to be as clean or cleaner than the body of water that it is flowing into. If we raise more fish in these hatcheries, there will be more natural waste produced by the fish. At these hatcheries, a filter system will treat water before it is discharged from the hatcheries, improving the water quality of the discharge water. Construction on these filter systems is due to start this spring or early summer, and are scheduled to be completed within a year.

"These improvements mean more fish, and cleaner water," said Wilson.

The final project will be upgrading the Emden Hatchery. This hatchery, near the shores of Emden Pond, will get a complete rebuild. The old cement raceways will be torn out, and replaced with a modern tank farm, which will include up to 30 tanks with a 20 foot diameter. Tanks farms are more efficient than the raceway systems, allowing us to raise more and bigger fish. They are also easier to maintain and clean, resulting in increased efficiency. A new water intake will be installed to supplement the current a lake water intake, giving the hatchery better ability to manipulate water temperatures, which means that we can create optimum temperatures for growing fish. And of course, the hatchery will get an oxygenation system and a filtration system. Contstruction on this upgrade could start as early as this June.

Finally, money from an Outdoor Heritage Fund grant will lead to improvements at the New Gloucester Hatchery. Currently, small fish or fry, as they are called, are moved from circular tanks to the outdoor dirt and gravel raceways. The change in habitat for these fish is less than ideal, so the grant will fund the construction of circular tanks at the hatchery, to provide a better growing habitat for the fry before they are placed in the raceway.

Fishing in Maine has an economic impact of nearly $300 million annually, and over 375,000 people fish in Maine each year. It generates nearly $20 million in tax revenue as well as supporting over 5,000 jobs. These figures were generated by a 1998 University of Maine economic impact study. The legislature authorized the bond issue in response to a legislative commission that evaluated the department's fish raising facilities. Noting the economic impact of fishing, the commission then developed a plan to increase the state's production of fish.

The department already stocks, on average, over one million fish in over 700 waters throughout the state. The commission projects that the department will need to increase that number substantially to meet demand over the next ten to fifteen years. The bond issue is the first phase of that plan.

"With the completion of these improvements, our production capacity will nearly double, allowing us to stock more fish more times in more locations in Maine," said Wilson.

Estimates are that production will increase from 250,000 pounds of fish annually, to 500,000 pounds of fish annually. Last year, the department stocked 1,408,879 fish that weighed a total of 291,317 pounds. Compare that to 1977 when we stocked 1,380,808 fish that weighed a total 129,579 pounds. In that time period, we have doubled the size of the fish we now stock.

Why Do We Stock
We receive lots of questions regarding fish stocking in Maine. Why do we stock? Why don't we stock more? What species do we stock and why? Why do we stock varying sizes and ages of fish? In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to answer some of these questions.

Maine stocks about one and one quarter million fish each year. Most of these fish are six inches or larger when released into the wild. All of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife's fish culture or hatchery program consists of growing various species of trout and landlocked salmon. At the current time we are raising brook trout, brown trout, lake trout (togue), landlocked salmon, splake (a brook trout/lake trout hybrid) and rainbow trout (an experimental program).

We stock fish to provide fishing opportunities for anglers that would not otherwise be available. Each of the state's nearly 6000 lakes and ponds and almost 32,000 miles of rivers and streams present some type of angling opportunity as well as management challenges.

Historically, fish stocking 50 to 100 years ago was done with little knowledge of the habitat requirements for a given species or the dynamics of a particular ecosystem. In the early 1950's fishery managers began to study these ecosystems to gain an understanding of how they operated in order to make informed decisions for future management of these waters. As more information was gathered, management recommendations resulted in a variety of stocking changes. In many situations the species to be stocked was changed. Perhaps many didn't realize that at one time Maine stocked four species of Pacific salmon. In other instances changes were made in the size of fish stocked. Years ago millions of tiny fry were planted in waters with large populations of predatory fish, resulting in few returns to the angler. In addition, many stockings especially in brooks and streams were stopped completely as there were adequate populations of wild trout.

IFW's fish stocking programs actually fall into four categories: introductory stocking, maintenance stocking, experimental stocking and put and take stocking. Introductory, maintenance and experimental stockings would all fall into the category of "biological" stocking programs. In each of these the habitat, water quality and available forage would be assessed and considered to be suitable to allow a stocked fish to survive and grow to legal size. Of these three types of programs the introductory one is the smallest. In this program we would consider all conditions to be suitable including sufficient spawning area for the species being stocked. Generally, after a few years, stocking can be discontinued and the fishery will maintain itself through natural reproduction. In fact, in a few of our brook trout waters we have established self- sustaining populations with a single stocking.

The largest part of Maine's stocking is considered a maintenance stocking program where routine, continuous stocking (on various time tables) may be made to supplement an insufficient amount of natural reproduction or substitute where there is a complete lack of natural reproduction. The lack of natural reproduction is generally a result of no suitable spawning habitat. We often get the question: Do stocked fish spawn? Yes, indeed they would spawn very nicely assuming there was suitable habitat conditions for successful spawning. Since many of Maine's waters have great habitat for growth and survival of stocked fish, but lack spawning area, our maintenance stocking program must continue.

The last of our three biological stocking programs is experimental. Experimental stocking is used in special situations to help us predict the success of a new program where complex biological interactions exist. Fish may be stocked on an experimental basis, and once information is gathered, the program may be changed, continued or stopped, depending on the results of the stocking. Past and present examples of our experimental programs include stocking of brown trout in tidal rivers such as the Mousam and Ogunquit, while currently we are conducting an experimental stocking with rainbow trout in several waters in central and southern Maine.

Our one non-biological program is called "put and take" stocking and consists of stocking legal-sized fish into waters where they are expected to be caught within a short time. These waters generally do not provide the right conditions to hold trout over the entire year (for example, the water may be too warm in the summer, or too low) or there may be very heavy fishing, such as waters near larger urban areas.

This stocking provides a short-term fishery that must be maintained by continuous stocking during periods when the habitat conditions are suitable. Most of this program is conducted in high population areas where other opportunities for trout fishing may not exist, i.e. spring stocking of some of the brooks in York and Cumberland Counties. Since hatchery space is limited, the stocking of large numbers of legal-sized fish is also limited. In a few years, as a result of the seven million dollar bond issue, we will be able to increase the number of "put and take" trout. In addition, a program such as this would not be considered where there are adequate numbers of wild fish.

All "biological" stocking programs are done with considerable thought and information available to each regional fishery staff. Many years ago department fisheries biologists established a set of guidelines for stocking. These guidelines include recommendations on species to be stocked, size of fish at stocking and numbers to be stocked. Species, size and numbers are based on the available habitat for the species to be stocked and the amount of competition from other fish species and the available forage (feed).

In order to give our biological stocking programs the best chance of success, fish quality goals (size and condition of fish at a particular age) are established for all species and strains grown in our hatchery system. Department fish culturists strive to meet these goals in order to provide for better survival following stocking and greater returns to the anglers. They take great pride in the products they stock and are continually finding ways to improve them.

IFW has nine hatcheries and rearing stations. Hatcheries are just that, where fish are hatched and also raised. A rearing station is where some fish are moved to after hatching. Each of these nine facilities represent sites which have proven to be conducive to the production of a certain species of coldwater fish. Some of them are fed by lake water, while others receive their water supplies from springs and underground wells.

Fish production schedules are planned several years in advance to assure the number and size of a particular species or strain are available to meet the needs of anglers. Exactly what species are produced by a particular facility are governed by the need for specific species, strain and size of the fish, the suitability of a facility for certain species and the geographic need for a specific species.

Another "special" program is the stocking of many of our larger, "retired" hatchery brood stock. These give anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy size fish. Brown trout measure out from 26-28 inches, togue are 26-28 inches, and the brook trout released are up to 22 inches in size. The brood stock are the fathers and mothers that produce the fingerlings, fry and yearlings the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stock throughout the year. The biological clock has stopped ticking for these fish, they are no longer active in their reproduction cycle, so they are released into the wild. Fish range in age from three to tweleve years. A list of stocked fish is available through our department or on our website.

And of course, you may wonder just how they do get into those 700 lakes, rivers, streams and ponds? There isn't one process used for all them. It depends on the geographic location of the water body, and its accessibility. Some are stocked by running a hose from a hatchery truck to the water and some are moved to ponds by a bucket that is filled at the truck. We use airplanes to bring fish to remote ponds where travel by truck is not feasible, and in some areas, we backpack them in as fry in a specially made pack frame designed to carry very small fish. The stocking of many waters also includes the boating of fish to various sections of a water body to spread the fish out and reduce attacks on them by predators such as larger fish or birds.

Hopefully this has given you an overview of IFW's stocking programs. If you are looking for a list of what bodies of water we stock, give us a call at 287-8000, or by check us out online at www.mefishwildlife.com.

Number and Weight of Fish Stocked From Maine State Hatcheries 1962 - present

Year Number of Fish Weight of Fish # of Hatcheries
1962 1,924,971 170,035 13
1963 2,083,029 134,283 14
1964 3,138,157 182,179 14
1965 1,956,826 137,096 13
1966 2,425,947 144,805 13
1967 1,645,432 121,534 12
1968 1,238,700 114,475 11
1969 1,524,751 117,306 10
1970 2,243,633 155,484 10
1971 1,916,796 158,022 10
1972 2,050,692 143,484 10
1973 2,585,498 136,130 10
1974 2,504,086 138,029 10
1975 2,096,118 154,197 10
1976 1,823,371 161,817 10
1977 1,380,808 129,579 10
1978 1,492,128 162,126 10
1979 1,273,549 136,399 10
1980 1,817,694 161,368 10
1981 1,491,953 139,086 9
1982 1,195,925 147,874 9
1983 982,556 158,261 9
1984 1,296,456 157,684 9
1985 1,392,473 160,156 9
1986 1,359,472 186,658 9
1987 1,843,412 224,214 9
1988 1,592,040 196,599 9
1989 1,611,601 217,677 9
1990 1,335,610 199,152 9
1991 1,557,292 207,519 9
1992 1,651,402 250,104 9
1993 1,407,635 205,179 9
1994 1,551,373 222,036 9
1995 1,086,615 241,925 9
1996 1,018,520 249,792 9
1997 1,203,974 243,107 9
1998 1,271,197 256,980 9
1999 1,252,176 255,657 9
2000 1,229,844 240,826 9
2001 1,204,722 261,100 9
2002 986,532 273,397 9
2003 1,408,879 291,317 9

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