Michael A. Sawyers
Brian Richardson is confident that the Maryland Fisheries Service will, little by little and year by year, get to the point where full production is restored to the state’s trout hatchery system, meaning that fish will no longer have to be purchased from private sources.
Richardson, manager of the agency’s Hatchery Division, said the upcoming resurrection of trout production at Mettiki Coal Corp. on Table Rock Road in Garrett County will be a step in that direction.
In 2007, fisheries crews inadvertently transported fish infected with whirling disease to a trout rearing facility at Mettiki. Consequently, the trout there had to be destroyed and the operation was closed, as was a net pen rearing facility in the stilling basin at Jennings Randolph Dam on the North Branch of the Potomac River.
“We are developing a new cooperative culture facility to address the production shortfalls caused by suspension of the Jennings Randolph and Mettiki net pen culture operations,” Richardson said.
“Mettiki Coal is constructing a biosecure culture building that will be operated by Department of Natural Resources staff. The water source will supply directly from the plant clarifier. We have continued to monitor the clarifier effluent over the years and it has never tested positive for the whirling disease pathogen.
“The new production system will be indoor tank culture, so that we can control environmental variables and reduce the potential exposure to any fish pathogens. Fish produced at the facility are slated for stocking into the North Branch.”
Completion of the building is expected by the summer, according to Richardson, but the agency will operate the facility conservatively at first, attempting to size up production strategies.
“The first year will be largely experimental. We set a conservative goal for future production years at approximately 10,000 fish. We do not know how the fish will perform in this facility, so our initial goal is to simply produce the typical stocking size fish (half-pound each). Mettiki is providing substantial financial and staff support for the project.”
The plan for Mettiki is to develop the capability to hatch the eggs there within three years, according to Richardson. “For the first couple years, we will transfer juvenile fish from either Albert Powell Hatchery or the Bear Creek Hatchery’s indoor recirculating aquaculture system to Mettiki. These will be conventional rainbow trout and the golden variety.”
Mettiki spokesman Jim Ashby said, “Mettiki has the largest controlled, cold-water source for potential trout rearing in Western Maryland due to the fact that limestone and high volume springs do not occur west of Cumberland.”
Ashby said the coal company has been working with the fishery agency since 2009 to make this project happen. Jointly, $60,000 is being spent for that purpose.
“This project will save fisheries money and benefit area fishermen, including a large number of Mettiki employees who live and have families in this area.”
There is no plan to restart the net pen rearing station at Jennings Randolph where, according to Freshwater Fisheries Director Don Cosden, evidence of whirling disease continues to be present. Richardson, though, doesn’t rule out talks with the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss ideas about other future cooperative fish culture efforts.
The state hatchery at Bear Creek, also closed by whirling disease, is back in operation and kicks out 80,000 trout annually. About 7,500 of those are used for children’s fishing rodeos.
This year, the agency has spent about $88,000 to buy trout for stocking. Most of those fish have come from Laurel Hill Farms in Pennsylvania and the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in West Virginia.
“This is not ideal, but trout culture resources are few and far between in Maryland,” Richardson said.
Some trout stocking has already taken place in Maryland waters. Many of the popular trout streams in Allegany and Garrett counties such as Bear, Evitts, Flintstone, Wills and Fifteen Mile creeks are currently closed to fishing, but will reopen on March 29.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.