Every Year, millions of anglers, that’s fishing type people to those of you who don’t indulge in the sport, catch fish that are raised and released from fish hatcheries all over the United States.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains 86 field stations that are part of the National Fish Hatcheries. There are three that are over one hundred years old, Leadville National Fish Hatchery, Colorado, Bozeman Fish Technology Center, Montana, and the DC Booth National Fish Hatchery in Spearfish South Dakota. Today, an important part of our ecosystem and natural environment is upheld and maintained by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service by repopulating fish species throughout the United States with fish that are raised in hatcheries.
Today the technology and techniques of raising, repopulating and maintaining fish species has been perfected from the past trials and efforts of past groups who were concerned about fish species and maintaining fish populations for generations to come. The first fish hatcheries were started by groups of people concerned over the culture and future of fish in the waters of the United States. As early as the 1870’s an organization was starting to address the concerns of fishermen, both commercial and sport, to provide for the future of fish species.
In 1871 a consortium of states gathered and started the funding for a public fish hatchery after they had recognized the decline and need for maintaining Salmon populations for commercial fishing. At about this same time the U.S. Government started the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries under the leadership of Spencer Fullerton Baird. Over the years the United States has maintained hatcheries for the control and repopulation of both commercial and sport fish and help to provide the future with these fish. The fish hatchery techniques used back in the early days of these hatcheries was both new and unique due to lack of technology.
Today we think nothing of pulling in to our air conditioned house on a hot August day and shucking off our cares with our shirts as we relax in the cool water of a tub. The trout that are stocked in stream and lakes across the United States need the cool waters of a stream or river to not only reproduce but to live. They require a colder water than many other fish for reproduction and life, and this was a bit difficult to maintain back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The streams that many hatcheries found to be perfect for breeding did not always maintain the clarity and temperature that the fish required, and some times problems occurred that had to be dealt with.
Transporting the fish to their site of release also proved to be a chore and one that had to be carefully planned and executed in order to ensure the survival of the fish. Early on transporting fish by horse and mule back proved to be unsatisfactory, even the addition of horse drawn carts did not help much. Special railroad cars were designed and outfitted to provide the fish with a cooler environment to be transported across the states and used cans with ice surrounding them to maintain the cooler temperatures the fish required. Men would take jobs to watch and maintain the fish on their state wide trips to maintain the ice and watch over the fish on their journeys. The cars would have both sleeping and eating facilities in the cars, wherever room could be spared. The sleeping bunks and even chairs were on top of the bins the fish cans were placed in. In the back of the car was the very small kitchen and the room the ice blocks were stored in for the fish.
After traveling from the hatchery to points along the railways the cans were removed and taken by truck and even in special backpacks to streams, rivers and other points of release. The men paid to do this job were happy at the time to get work, in the early 1900’s jobs were scarce and many could find no other work. The federal government paid men in a variety of jobs with both the Federal Fisheries and the newly founded Parks and Recreation Department and many jobs were created to help the American public find work during the depression years of the 1930’s. Many of the jobs at the hatcheries was hard work but rewarding to be helping the future survival of fish species.
Today the fish hatchery at Spearfish South Dakota only raises fingerling’s that are hatched at the nearby McNenny Fish Hatchery due to a drop in water quality back in the 1940’s. Now the fish are hatched and started at the McNenny hatchery and then transported to the DC Booth Hatchery for raising into the size used for stocking. The DC Booth hatchery is also used as a historical site and one that educates the public about fish hatcheries and their importance to our natural environment.
At the Spearfish South Dakota hatchery you can see a restored fish car, one of the original rail cars used that is still under restoration,and a replica of the original ice house that was used to store ice for the rail cars. The entire hatchery is a project that is being funded by several sources to maintain the history of our national fish hatcheries and depends on the public and private help of volunteers and people that are dedicated to seeing this part of our national history be kept for future generations.
The hatchery is a five way partnership dedicated to the project, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a museum for the hatchery, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks supplies the brown and rainbow trout to the hatchery, the city of Spearfish helps with funding along with the non profit organization Booth Society, Inc. and the Fish Culture Section of the American Fisheries Society. They together help to fund and secure a part of our national history and future survival of fish species in the DC Booth National Fish Hatchery.
The fish are transported in refrigerated tanker trucks, and released into concrete ponds that are on the site. You can see the fish and even feed them with food provided. There is a great underwater viewing room that you can watch as the fish swim around and see the size these species of fish can reach.
The area has a great park and you can tour the museum and area to find out about the fascinating role the hatchery has played throughout the years. While we were there we were not the only ones to visit and hope to get a chance at fish, although we only wanted to watch them. An Osprey took a chance at some of the fish in one of the ponds, but was unsuccessful. Wildlife in the area is part of the natural hatchery and you can see this in some of the ponds and the lake with it’s viewing room. Ducks and other aquatic waterfowl have taken up residence with the abundance of food that visitors and the fish offer.
The rail car that is being restored to the original version of the hatcheries car was really neat to see. The woodwork that is being put in now is a little better with it’s varnished and well sanded surfaces but it is being restored to the original workings of the cars used back in the early days of the hatchery, or almost. The seats are a unique addition that the men back at the time used to sit on top of the tanks, a chair with no legs that sits on top of the wooden boxes. There is also a boat that was used on Lake Yellowstone for the hatchery. The entire area is a rich part of history and an important part of our natural resources of today.
The DC Booth Fish Hatchery is a unique visit to a part of our nations rich past and dedication to it’s environmental concerns. It is also an important part of our nations future, both the fish species that are continuing to be raised and released but to our steadfast protection of endangered species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are entrusted to protect.