The Spokane Fish Hatchery is not for the birds.
Washington Fish and Wildlife workers emphasized that Tuesday by installing new netting to keep avian predators away from raceways full of small trout destined for stocking in the region’s fishing lakes.
“Without the netting, we would lose 30-50 percent of our small fish to predators,” said Ace Trump, Spokane Hatchery manager. “(Great blue) herons and kingfishers can really take a bite out of our production.”
The protective netting was purchased with a $2,800 donation from the Inland Empire Chapter of Safari Club International.
The club raised most of the funds from its investment in fish-feed dispensing machines available to visitors who tour the hatchery grounds at 2927 West Waikiki Road near St. George’s School, said Mike Coyle.
The hatchery has 15 round ponds and eight raceways, all of which need to be protected.
“Heavy, wet snow that fell a few years ago damaged most of our netting,” said Ace Trump, hatchery manager. “We got FEMA funding to replace the nets on all the round ponds and now Safari Club has stepped up to replace the nets on all the raceways.”
“It’s a big boost to our cash-strapped agency,” said Rich Watson, WDFW regional hatchery complex manager.
“The fish food machines have been a good deal all around,” Watson said. “People used to come in and throw all sorts of bread and junk food in the ponds to see the fish eat. That was really bad for the fish and made a mess in the ponds.”
Safari Club members also resurrected the hatchery tour program a few years ago, leading thousands of visitors on group tours that are especially popular with youth groups and schools.
“The most popular time for school tours is in the spring when the weather gets nicer,” Coyle said. “But the best time is December and January when the hatchery staff is milking the males to fertilize the eggs from the females.
“And February is a good time because there still are eggs inside the hatchery and fish of all sizes outside before they start stocking the lakes. So you can really see the full life cycle.
“But there’s something to see all year round.”
Safari Club also purchased a TV so groups could see an 8-minute video of the egg-taking and fertilization process any time of the year.
WDFW manages three hatcheries in the Spokane-to-Colville area for stocking the region’s fishing waters.
The Spokane hatchery provides most of the rainbow trout.
The Ford Hatchery, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, produces kokanee for waters including Banks Lake.
The Colville Hatchery was rescued from closure two years ago at the outset of the state’s budget crisis by funding offered by the Colville Confederated Tribe.
The Colville hatchery holds trout and provides kokanee for area waters including Lake Roosevelt.
“We’re in tough budget times right now,” Watson said, “but we’re doing everything we can to keep facilities operating and saving money wherever we can.”