Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012: 9) Gone fishin'

Atlantic salmon in circular
pool at White River National
Fish Hatchery.
Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS
We're bringing in the new year with a look back at our milestones for 2012. Check back each day for featured events and activities from across the Northeast!

Ever had an aquarium? You probably had no more than a handful of fish to care for. Imagine if you were raising millions and millions of fish, including a variety of species with different needs. Let's throw some freshwater mussels in there, too.

You're starting to look like a national fish hatchery, where biologists blend layers upon layers of science and technique to successfully raise and release fish and mussels that will support our waters and fishing pastime and industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery System was originally established to provide domestic food fish to replace declining native fish, whether from drought, over-harvest, pollution or other reasons.

National hatcheries in the Northeast help boost native aquatic populations, recover fish and freshwater mussels protected under the Endangered Species Act, and provide fish to benefit tribes and national wildlife refuges.

Across the Northeast hatcheries, biologists raised (and often released) Atlantic salmon, brook, rainbow and lake trout, American shad, paddlefish and a variety of freshwater mussel species, including the endangered James spinymussel, shiny pigtoe, northern riffleshell, clubshell, pink mucket, dromedary pearlymussel and sheepnose.

Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren, Penn., completed its first year back in the business of raising lake trout to restore recreational fisheries in the lower Great Lakes. At the end of 2011, the hatchery received juvenile lake trout and eggs from hatcheries in Massachusetts, Michigan, Vermont and Wisconsin, and when they're ready, the first group will be stocked into lakes Erie and Ontario.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $1.13 million in funding to complete the repairs at Allegheny National Fish Hatchery. With additional funds from the Service’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and hatchery maintenance accounts, the Service in March 2010 awarded a $1.7 million general construction contract to William T. Spaeder Co., Inc., to carry out the project. Credit: USFWS.

The hatchery had been inactive since 2005, when lake and brook trout in the hatchery tested positive for infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN). IPN is a highly contagious and incurable fish virus that can affect trout and salmon species, in some cases causing up to 90 percent mortality in young fish.

In addition, the 35-year old aeration tower was crumbling, high-pressure water lines and electronic controls were corroding, and the hatchery became unsafe for staff. Recovery Act funds were used in March 2010 to construct new aeration and degassing towers. The hatchery was thoroughly decontaminated following the discovery of IPN. Tests were done before any fish were released on site in November, and the hatchery is virus-free.

The young lake trout raised at the hatchery will support recreational fisheries in the two lakes as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative is a partnership of 16 state, provincial and federal agencies working together to address the most significant environmental problems in the Great Lakes.

A number of federal and state hatcheries have a special source of funding from natural resource damage settlements. These settlements restore natural resources, such as fish populations, that have been injured by oil spills or hazardous substances, and funds come from the parties responsible for the spills. Our 2012 examples are from the Powell River in Virginia and Tennessee.

Staff and students from Virginia Tech in the Powell River in northeastern Tennessee. They are at the mussel release site finding mussels with PIT tags, electronic tags with numbers and letters that identify individual mussels. Credit: USFWS

In 1996, a spill in Virginia's Lee County released 6 million gallons of coal slurry into more than 20 miles of the Powell River and its streams, impacting fish, mussels and other wildlife. Funds have been used for a variety of efforts to return the river's health, from protecting land to stocking fish and restoring streams. This past year, funds supported the raising of more than 200 threatened yellowfin madtom to stock in 2013 and the largest release -- more than 6,500 individuals -- of three endangered mussel species.

The Powell River is a headwater tributary of the Tennessee River and is among the most biologically diverse rivers in the country. Nearly 100 fish species and 35 mussel species occur in the Powell River. In fact, there are more mussel species found in the Powell River than in all of Europe, says Service biologist Jess Jones.

"I am optimistic that by continuing to improve propagation technology for mussels, reducing and eliminating pollution sources, protecting habitat, and working with partners, recovery can be achieved for some species," Jess says.

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