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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Why do hatcheries ship eggs and not fish?  Iron River National Fish Hatchery explains!

Region 3, February 14, 2013
After eggs eye-up, they are run through an egg picker, measured using volumetric displacement and packaged for shipping.
After eggs eye-up, they are run through an egg picker, measured using volumetric displacement and packaged for shipping. - Photo Credit: n/a
Eggs are packaged in wet cloth diapers for shipment to other entities in and out of the region.
Eggs are packaged in wet cloth diapers for shipment to other entities in and out of the region. - Photo Credit: n/a

The Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Iron River, Wisconsin maintains approximately 4,000 adult lake trout and coaster brook trout. These fish are spawned each fall and eggs are collected for restoration purposes in the Upper Great Lakes. Eyed eggs are shipped to other entities, including federal, state and tribal agencies, in and out of the region.

Why do hatcheries ship eggs? Not every hatchery is a brood facility, meaning that not every facility holds adults and completes the egg-taking process. These non-brood facilities need a source of fish or fish eggs to fulfill their mission and fish production goals. That is where the brood facility “takes their order” and plans for the amount of eggs and which strain will be given to the other facilities. At Iron River, we rear certain strains for Great Lakes restoration. However, the strain that fish managers want for the south end of Lake Michigan is not always the particular strain of brood that Iron River NFH rears. Therefore, we also receive eggs from other facilities, to meet our production goals.

This year 190,000 lake trout eggs were shipped to Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren, Pennsylvania, while also providing 360,000 eggs for production needs at Iron River National Fish Hatchery. Almost 800,000 brook trout eggs in total were shipped to the U.S. Geological Survey, Genoa National Fish Hatchery, Redcliff Tribal Hatchery, Grand Portage Indian Community and Keewenaw Bay Indian Community, not including 60,000 eggs to meet goals at Iron River NFH. Instead of destroying surplus eggs, Iron River NFH was able to utilize 365,000 brook trout eggs by sending them to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located in North Carolina.

This past year Iron River NFH also received 1.85 million lake trout eggs from  from Sullivan Creek National Fish Hatchery in Brimley, Michigan and Saratoga National Fish Hatchery in Saratoga, Wyoming. Eggs from Sullivan Creek NFH are Seneca Lake and Parry Sound strains, while Saratoga NFH provides a Lake Michigan strain of lake trout called Lewis Lake.

Why eggs not fish? You can disinfect eggs and not fish. The main purpose of all hatcheries is to culture healthy fish for the public. To reach that goal, we prefer not to ship fish from hatchery to hatchery, because we may also be shipping disease.  After the eggs are disinfected for shipping to another facility, they are wrapped in wet cloth diapers and layered on perforated Styrofoam trays and placed in coolers especially made for egg shipping. The top tray is loaded with ice that slowly melts and allows the fish in the eggs to breathe.

Contact Info: Carey Edwards, 715-372-8510, Carey_Edwards@fws.gov