2011-04-21 / Local & State

NW Pa. Hatchery Has 135 Years Of History

By Bob Jarzomski

CORRY, Pa. (AP) – What starts in the hatch house ends on happy anglers’ hooks.

The Corry Fish Culture Station does its part, anyway. The storybook ending? That’s up to the anglers.

The hatchery on Route 6 has been turning out trout for the state’s waterways since 1876, making it the oldest of the 13 existing hatcheries operated by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

By 8 a.m. Saturday, when the trout fishing season opens in most of the state, the Corry hatchery will already have provided eager anglers with more than 160,000 brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow trout that have been stocked in lakes and tributaries in nine counties in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Many waterways will then be restocked over the next two weeks, bringing the total to about 310,000 adult trout.

“This is our busy season, like the last days to file for your income tax, but here it’s 365 days a year,’’ said Paul Mountain, the Corry hatchery’s foreman. “We have to have somebody here all the time, cleaning, feeding, regulating the water and taking care of the fish for whatever they need.’’

The hatchery has 10 developed acres – there are 227 total acres divided among the state-owned main hatchery, an annex and foster properties – managed by the Fish and Boat Commission.

The hatchery is operated by six full-time employees, a secretary and a seasonal worker. The site includes a visitors center that provides free tours to an average of 5,000 visitors annually; three large trucks fitted with fiberglass tanks that are used to transport the trout to stocking sites; feed towers; and the hatch house, which contains concrete raceways and egg incubator jars.

The station features 46 narrow, 8-foot-by-100-foot water-filled concrete runs, where trout grow to about 10 to 12 inches long, the average size for stocking. That process takes 16 to 18 months.

Cold water constantly runs over the trout, never freezing. Hatchery manager Dan Donato said the water comes from multiple sources.

“We pump and recirculate water from here, where we have three wells on site on this land, but also from our annex property, which is three-quarters of a mile away, and from our foster property, which is about a mile away,’’ he said.

The 145-year-old Fish and Boat Commission maintains its trout hatcheries because many of the state’s streams will not allow natural reproduction by native or stocked fish.

The smooth shale bottoms on many streams in the state’s northwestern tributaries, for instance, do not allow for successful egg deposits or fertilization. High water temperature in the summer months kills many trout in low-water streams. Throughout the state, mudslides can wash away eggs. Other biological factors are in play, too.

Waterways that the commission designates Class A Wild Trout streams – about 1,500 miles of streams that have documented and sustainable natural reproduction – are not stocked.

“If all of our streams would be natural reproduction, we’d be out of business, so we don’t want that,’’ Donato said with a laugh.

The Corry hatchery, one of three state-run facilities in Erie County alongside Fairview Township and Union City, has an annual budget of $680,000, which is funded strictly from fishing license sales.

The fish food, a dry mixture of fishmeal, corn and other nutrients, costs $144,000 for the year.

“When we’re up to our whole complement in the raceways, we feed 1,200 pounds a day,’’ Mountain said. “Each feed tower holds about 27,000 pounds, and we have about 30,000 pounds trucked in every month. We have a state contract, and they truck it up from Harrisburg.’’

The white trucks, which each can carry as many as 3,000 trout, are filled and sent off in the early morning to stock approved trout waters. In 2009, the Fish and Boat Commission estimated that 1,900 trips were made by 45 trucks that traveled more than 360,000 miles – like going to the moon and halfway back.

“We’re concerned right now because of the high price of gas is really upping the price of stocking fish,’’ Mountain said.

The Corry hatchery also stocks the put-grow-andtake program, in which fish 3 to 5 inches are thrown in.

“It’s a real inexpensive program, and what we do is put fish in that size to grow up into adult size in the wild, and about a year later the anglers can take them out starting the next June,’’ Donato said. “We stock the Kinzua Reservoir, Section 7 of the Allegheny River, and three sections of the Clarion River, which totals about 265,000 (trout) at that size.’’

Most streams are stocked twice with adult trout, weighing about 58 pounds per 100 fish. Lake Pleasant is stocked four times: the preseason, inseason, fall and winter.

Most anglers and observers see only the final act, the actual stocking. With so much more involved, hatchery employees always are on call should something go awry.

“We have an alarm system, and if our pump would break down or if the levels of our raceways would go down, we come in,’’ Donato said.

But it’s what goes right that draws visitors. Hatchery workers say most are intrigued by the sight of bright golden rainbows, or palominos, in the raceways. Anglers aren’t immune, either; the easy visibility of palominos in streams makes them targets of opportunity.

Several posters created by children hang inside the visitors center as “thankyous’’ to tour guides.

It’s been a process that’s worked in Corry for 135 years.

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