Decrepit hatchery - taking a year off
Written by South Bend Tribune   
Monday, 08 August 2005 03:35
There's never a good time to shut down a state fish hatchery, but sometimes it's the only choice.

That's the precarious situation that Indiana Fish and Wildlife officials find themselves in and why Indiana's Lake Michigan stockings will take a hit over the next couple of years.

But just a little hit. At least that's what everyone hopes.

Here's the deal. The 31-year-old Mixsawbah Fish Hatchery near Walkerton is badly in need of repairs. It's remarkable that the facility has met its production quotas as well as it has over the last decade or so.

But the water supply system has been hampering production. Corroding pipes and leaks have restricted water flows which are critical in fish development. Mixsawbah's fish run about a half-inch smaller than those produced at Mishawaka's more modern Bodine Hatchery fish.

So, beginning in October, the facility that produces 750,000 fish annually will shut down for a year while undergoing a $1.5 million facelift. The cost is funded through $500,000 of state money and $1 million of federal money.

The good news is that the DNR has a plan to minimize the production losses by releasing more-but-younger trout raised at Bodine State Fish Hatchery.

"The Bodine Hatchery has done an excellent job of producing quality fish and meeting production goals," said Lake Michigan biologist Brian Breidert. "We're convinced they can carry the extra load until we get Mixsawbah back up and running."

The plan affects only stockings conducted annually at Trail Creek and the Little Calumet River. The St. Joseph River will continue to receive older, larger fish as they have in the past.

However, the St. Joe's 2006 fall steelhead stocking will be cut by 40,000 as fishery officials will use put those in Trail Creek and the Little Cal. The St. Joseph will still receive 40,000.

Fishery officials also predict a 60 percent reduction in coho salmon stocked into Indiana tributaries of Lake Michigan during 2006. Lake Michigan anglers will see fewer coho return in the spring 2008 while stream anglers will see in during 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately, coho take a more severe, lakewide hit since Michigan is slashing its coho plants by 1 million fish in 2007-08 due to budget problems.

Indiana's chinook (king) salmon plants, on the other hand, are expected to remain about the same thanks to help from other states.

The hatchery shutdown will temporarily stop spring stocking of Skamania steelhead trout in 2006 and 2007. Spring-stocked Mixsawbah Skamania steelhead take 14 months to raise. To offset that, the DNR will stock younger steelhead raised at Bodine.

Bodine will produce Mixsawbah's 180,000 Skamania steelhead to a size of about four inches and stock them in September instead of holding them over into the following spring when they are 7 inches.

"By stocking the fish earlier and at a smaller size enables us to increase Bodine's production," said Lake Michigan biologist Brian Breidert. "Smaller stocked fish don't tend to survive as well, but we're increasing the stocking numbers and believe that should offset any losses."

Impact to the Lake Michigan stream Skamania fishery will occur during the third summer following stocking of smaller Skamania trout.

Bodine will also raise Mixsawbah's 120,000 winter-run trout to a size of 2.5-or-more inches and stock them in September. They typically are stocked in December as four-inch fish.

Indiana's Lake Michigan brown trout stocking of fish obtained from Illinois will not be affected by the shutdown.

"Our reinvestment in Mixsawbah far outweighs the short-term impacts that anglers may see," said Breidert. "Fortunately, the trout and salmon harvest is made up of fish between 2 and 5 years old, resulting in generation overlaps during spawning migrations.

Careful planning will allow Mixsawbah hatchery to be up and running in time to receive salmon eggs in the fall of 2006."

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