It is the start of week five at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Burnet, Texas. So far, it has been an excellent experience and I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much already. There are eight other people here, including another DFP, and they have all been awesome to work with. This summer I am working on a project investigating the genetic diversity of the federally endangered Clear Creek Gambusia, a small narrowly endemic fish. However, I will get back to the details of my project in future posts. Today, I want to focus on another major component of the summer, catfish aquaculture.
Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery is in central Texas about an hour west of Austin and is a part of USFWS region 2. The primary mission of the hatchery is to provide catfish to multiple tribal nations of the American Southwest as well as some other federal lands of the region. The facility raises hundreds of thousands of channel catfish per year. I always knew places like this existed, however I never thought I would ever be apart of one. Nor, did I know how much I would enjoy it now that I am here.
A typical day starts in the “Holding House.” Here, large oxygenated flow through tanks – which kind of look like very long kitchen sinks – house either eggs or baby catfish. Each morning we clean the tanks and sweep out excess food while carefully avoiding thousands of adorable little whiskered fish. Depending on the day, we then climb into the breeding ponds to gather up fish eggs. In the wild catfish lay eggs in underwater cavities like hollow logs. In the hatchery ponds they lay their eggs in plastic barrels attached to ropes. We pull up these barrels, gently scoop out the egg masses, and bring them to the Holding House for hatching.
If it is a “Harvest Day” we are in the ponds most of the day wrangling the bigger fish. This usually involves most of the people working that day, an array of different types of nets, and various pieces of heavy machinery. Overall, it’s quite an orchestra. First a large net is pulled around the water by a tractor and skid-steer to corral the fish into a smaller area. We then pull a hand seine to crowd the fish down even farther. Next, we scoop the fish using a big hand net into a large bucket held up by a crane. The bucket is then dumped into a holding tank on a trailer. From there the fish are held in raceways for a few days to receive some chemical treatment. Finally, they are shipped off to their destination in an 18-wheeler with large holding tanks attached. It is a fair amount of work, but I have been having a great time and really enjoying getting the chance to learn all about rearing catfish.
Agency: U.S. Fish & Widlife Service
Program: Directorate Fellowship Program (DFP)
Location: Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery