Filled to the gills: Hatchery spawns 9 million trout eggs

SALISBURY — When the thermometer dips below zero as it did in Salisbury on Monday, the only way you’d think you’d spy a trout is in the frozen food section of the supermarket or by drilling a hole through more than a foot of ice out on Lake Dunmore.
Then again, we can’t all be Al Moorhouse, a fish culture specialist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department who helps operate the state’s Fish Culture Station in Salisbury.
“We might have 40,000 fish here at any given time,” Moorhouse said.
The Salisbury station boasts the largest fish of the state’s five culture stations. It produces around 9 million trout eggs annually for the other state facilities, using high-quality well water, an excellent water source for rearing the adult brook, brown, lake, rainbow and steelhead trout brood fish and for the on-site egg incubation system.
When the adult fish are no longer needed for egg production, they are stocked statewide. The Salisbury FCS spawns fish year-round in a light-controlled room, also known as “the lighthouse.” The room can mimic any cycle of daylight needed to trick the fish into providing eggs. This also gives the fish a longer growing season, which is much appreciated by anglers who flock to Vermont’s ponds and lakes each year in hopes of bagging one for the books.
Moorhouse on Monday was again surrounded by his captive audience of pampered pisces, which were thrashing about in a series of raceways, holding basins and a pond.
The 40,000 fish figure doesn’t include the eggs. The Salisbury hatchery customarily has 500,000 fish eggs incubating on-site that will mature and take their place among the brood stock that has been replenishing its kind for the state’s waterways for many generations.
“We rotate out our older fish every couple of years,” Moorhouse said.
The Salisbury hatchery has been in place since 1931, he noted.
“We used to do production fish,” Moorhouse said, referring to the process of importing fish eggs from other states to incubate them and then introduce the young fish into the state’s waterways at the recommendation of biologists. The state’s Bald Hill, Bennington, Ed Weed and Roxbury hatcheries were also performing that function, Moorhouse noted.
But for more than 20 years now, the Salisbury hatchery has been perpetuating Vermont’s internal stock of trout, no longer requiring imports from the federal government or other states.
“We want something that is going to survive and spawn on its own, and that’s the big picture,” Moorhouse said.
Aiding in this goal is the fact that the Salisbury hatchery well water is of the highest quality in the state, thus providing the best environment for the trout to thrive and reproduce.
“We are self-contained and keep disease management under control,” Moorhouse said.
The water in which the fish live is also maintained at a consistent temperature of around 48 degrees. They are fed a nutritious fish pellet and are carefully managed by four full-time staff, two of whom live at the station.
“We have 24-hour coverage,” Moorhouse said.
Under these optimum conditions, it’s not unusual for some of the trout to weigh in at 15 pounds, according to Moorhouse. Fish are rotated out beginning at age four, as part of the state’s trophy program. But up to that point, the fish are nurtured to maximize their reproduction capabilities. Females and males are kept in separate areas during mating periods. Staff carefully check the females to see when they are carrying eggs. When they are ready to yield their bounty, they are “knocked out” with an anesthetic, whereupon the eggs are massaged out of the fish. The males are also knocked out and drained of sperm, which is applied to the eggs. Those eggs are then placed into an incubator to mature. The young fish are raised in separate holding tanks until they are large enough to survive among the brood stock.
Moorhouse explained that the yield of eggs and fish would be dramatically lower if the fish were allowed to spawn naturally. That’s in part because adult fish will eat the eggs and younger fish.
The mature fish are placed in around 10 different waterways throughout the state, depending on where Fish & Wildlife officials think they are most needed. Anglers are able to find out where they are placed.
“We are pretty vocal about where we put the fish,” Moorhouse said. “We welcome people to call and ask where we are stocking. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
Of course, Salisbury hatchery officials take pains to make sure the fish are protected on-site while they are maturing and yielding eggs. The outdoor fish runways are covered to thwart raids by hungry birds, including bald eagles and herons. There’s an alarm system and a fence surrounding the hatchery pond. Fortunately, Moorhouse has not seen fisherman attempt to dip their lines into the pond on the sly.
“We are more worried about winged and four-footed predators,” he said with a smile.
Salisbury hatchery officials can be reached at 352-4371.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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