Power outage kills 300,000 trout
Written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette   
Sunday, 01 May 2005 08:28
A seven-hour power outage at a federal fish hatchery in Warren killed 300,000 lake trout that were ready to stock Lake Erie and Lake Ontario this year.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a scheduled power outage for line repair Tuesday was followed by a surge that blew out the hatchery's backup generator.

Even though utility workers tried to fix the damage, "it still took almost seven hours until we had power returned," said Bill Archambault, the hatchery program supervisor in Hadley, Mass. "When you have that sort of loss of oxygen for a fish, there is no way you can ... not expect some mortality."

The lake trout lived in concrete raceways that used pumps to circulate oxygenated water. About one-half of the 600,000 fish died, and stress could lead to more deaths, he said.

"We lost pretty much about half of the yearlings," Archambault said. "We didn't lose any brood stock or fry, which will go out next year."

The yearlings were tagged and scheduled to stock Lakes Erie and Ontario early next month as part of an ongoing recreational fishery restoration program. Lake trout are grown in the hatchery and transferred to the lakes, where scientists hope they will produce natural young fry.

The Warren hatchery was sole supplier for lake trout for Lakes Erie and Ontario, said Charles Krueger, science director for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which coordinates management and research in the lakes.

This incident "sets back the restoration of a native species and affects the incidental catches that occur in sport fisheries," he said.

"We may up production next year to make up for the loss this year, but the real impact to anglers will be a couple of years down the road," Archambault said. "For this year, it won't mean anything because these are only 7-inch fish and they wouldn't be targeted [by fishermen] anyway."

This type of massive fish loss is not uncommon, Krueger said. Whether due to disease, drought or lightning, fish hatcheries often lose some of their fish each year.

"We will look into [the power outage], but it was just one of those situations where everything that could have gone wrong, from the public utility's standpoint, did," Archambault said.

In addition to the hatchery costs of the fish, the loss could have an impact on the recreational fishing industry, though the extent is unclear.

Lake trout are not as popular as fish like chinook salmon and rainbow trout because they swim in deep water, so they can only be caught from a boat. But they are long-living fish that typically grow up to 20 pounds, so missing a year of them has long-term effects.

Seven-inch trout can grow to 15 inches in just a year, said Gary Heubel, owner of Poor Richard's, a bait and tackle shop in Erie. Fisherman can keep any lake trout over 15 inches, but are limited to two fish, he said.

He estimates that only about 25 percent of boat companies on Lake Erie target lake trout, but for those that do, the absence of a whole class of fish and their spawn could be noticed in years to come.

"It's not a catastrophe, but it's not good either," he said.

"Fishermen always complain," Archambault said with a little laugh. "We are going to do our best to increase the amount of fish we're going to raise, and hopefully there won't be even much of a long-term impact."

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