Friends gather to protect important hatchery
By Mike Bleech
Posted on November 1, 2007
A small group met Monday at the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren to form Friends of Allegheny National Fish Hatchery.
The hatchery is in need of a few.
The Allegheny National Fish Hatchery was constructed during the 1970s to raise a variety of trout to be stocked in northwestern Pennsylvania. But a few years later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy changed to raising fish for re-establishing native populations and the focus of the hatchery became raising lake trout for the eastern Great Lakes.
These stockings, unlike most others, are not intended to create put-and-take fisheries, nor even put-grow-and-take fisheries. These stockings are intended to re-establish native lake trout populations in the eastern Great Lakes. There are some modest signs that they have been succeeding.
But then in 2002 an outbreak of infectious pancreatic necrosis virus shut down the hatchery. The hatchery fish were carriers, which meant the disease would have been passed along to offspring. And the virus can be passed from fish to fish. All trout and salmon are susceptible.
"In November 2005, we depopulated," said Dave Blick, assistant hatchery manager.
It is not certain how this virus was introduced to the hatchery, but migratory birds, perhaps mallards that were often seen on the raceways, are suspected. Covers were placed over the raceways to keep the birds out.
Even though this virus was probably already present in the eastern Great Lakes, Fish and Wildlife Service policy forbade stocking them into Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Not all of the fish went to waste, though. All of the brook trout and 30,000 lake trout were stocked into waterways that already were known to be infected with the virus.
"The current status of the hatchery is we are dry," hatchery manager Tracy Copeland said.
And this was not the only serious problem at the hatchery.
"The other issue is our aeration tower," Copeland said.
Water for the hatchery comes from wells. This situation has caused problems in the past, some perhaps through vandalism, some because of an aging system.
The possibility of getting water directly from the Allegheny Reservoir was discussed, but that would be more costly than a new well system. Plans for a new well are now under way. As long as the new water supply is biosecure - it gets covered - there is no reason this facility can not once again be doing its job.
"If things go according to plan we will be back online in 2010," Copeland said.
However, there is a stumbling block.
"But right now there is no funding," Copeland said.
The cost for the new aeration tower will be somewhere in the range of $800,000 to $1.7 million.
While the hatchery has been off-line, lake trout came to Lake Erie from New York in 2006 and have been coming from Vermont this year. These substitute hatcheries have met 90 percent of goals.
Once the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery is in operation again, production goals will be 160,000 lake trout annually for Lake Erie and 500,000 annually for Lake Ontario, the same as before the shutdown.
In the hatchery, lake trout have an 18-month cycle. If funding is secured and the hatchery goes online in 2010, it will have lake trout for stocking in 2012.
Naturally, Copeland is frustrated.
"We didn't think it would take this long to get back into business," he said.
It has been demonstrated time and again that investments into fishing return big dividends to the economy.
The Friends of Allegheny National Fish Hatchery is being formed to raise public awareness. Among the groups present in the formative meeting were the Warren County Council of Sportsmen's Clubs, Warren County Conservation District, Northwestern Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Coalition and a smattering of individuals.
For those who are aware of this situation, it is deeply discouraging that this state-of-the-art facility is being ignored by those federal legislators who provide funding. The Friends are scheduled to meet again in February to formulate plans to promote the hatchery.
MIKE BLEECH can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.