A new hatchery along the Allegany River could help restore a fishery that once was stunning, and help to improve environmental quality of the river.
Anglers recall the fabulous walleye fishing that developed after Kinzua Dam waters flooded the river to form the Kinzua Reservoir. Restoring that fun fishery, enjoyed through the 1980s and declining in the early 1990s, is one of the targets Seneca Nation of Indians fish and wildlife planners have set for reservoir and river waters in years to come.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds were first approved in 2010 to establish a hatchery and fisheries improvement project for Seneca Nation lands and waters.
“The walleye had been native to the Allegany River,” hatchery manager Shane Titus said Monday afternoon while leading a tour of the newly constructed walleye hatchery facility on a hillside above Hatchery Road. With matching Seneca tribal funds, the hatchery was constructed, and the first walleye fingerlings and fry were released into river and reservoir waters in 2012.
“We’re proud that this is entirely green,” Titus said of the water supplied from a spring uphill from the building and of the solar panels on the roof that generates all power needs. “We don’t have any wires here,” he said as we walked out to look at the holding ponds.
Two outside ponds hold maturing fish stock. Each pond measures 30 by 60 feet, with a depth of 4.5 to 5.5 feet.
“We have a 2-to-1 ratio of steep edges around the pond to discourage birds,” Titus said of predators. Aquatic birds such as great blue herons, sea gulls and cormorants can be a predator problem at most hatcheries.
The hatchery does not see bird predation, but a variety of frog species can be menacing to newly released walleye fry. Hatching and rearing fry take place entirely inside, with eggs and milt supplied from walleye taken from nearby the Allegany River.
A new boat is equipped with electro-shocking gear to stun female and male fish for egg production. The process can be hectic; walleye are more easily electro-shocked late at night. The previous shocking trip ended at about 2 a.m. Monday morning. By mid afternoon the boat was set for an evening run to gather more spawning walleye.
“During the spring run we will gather about 40 females and 100 males for hatching,” Titus said as we viewed a holding tank of newly-arrived females not yet ready for egg stripping. “The females are ready when the water gets above 40 degrees, and it takes about seven males for each female to get the proper egg-to-milt mix,” he said of the process that still gets the most efficient mix of egg and milt when stirred with a turkey feather.
The results have been impressive. During the 2012 season about a million fry and 1,000 fingerlings were released in Seneca Nation waters. The fry go in the spring and the fingerlings during the fall season.
This year, the target is two million fry, but the pond capacity will not allow for major increases in fingerling production, stock that could grow to 5 or 6 inches when released. Increased water clarity and quality has prompted Will Miller, Seneca Nation Fisheries Director and other officials to develop this hatchery program to restore the walleye fishery resource.
“But the problem is habitat. To establish a sustained fisheries program, we have to create a healthy and vital ecology, including habitat improvements,” Titus concluded.
Current Seneca Nation projects include placing Christmas trees through the ice at spawning sites during the winter and forming shoreline rock eddies when river waters are low.
Titus and Seneca personnel welcome individuals and groups to visit the new hatchery. Visiting hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. “The next two weeks would be the best time to get here,” Titus said of the spring hatching cycle.
For directions to the hatchery and for making visit arrangements, call 474-8642.