What's Happening at Neosho NFH
BY BRUCE HALLMAN, NEOSHO NFH
Credit: Bruce Hallman, USFWS
Autumn is a beautiful time of year here in Neosho, Missouri. As of mid-October, the maples are in full color as are some other vibrant species. It is a time of crisp mornings that produce stunning scenes of foggy mist from our ponds. And with the summer heat behind us, the sunny afternoons are a delight to enjoy and take in the outdoor sights.
This is the time of year when we are beginning a new cycle for our rainbow trout program. We get eggs in five times a year, mostly from Ennis National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Montana, and the first batch arrived in August. A second lot came in late September, and our next is scheduled for November. Just last week our summer pond maintenance came to an end as the empty basins were filled with spring water. It won’t be long before some 7-inch trout move into those ponds as they continue to grow to our targeted size.
Because we are surrounded by a community, everything we do is closely examined by the public. Visitors always ask, “What’s wrong?” when they see the emptied ponds, or when they don’t see fish in the water. While it is useful to explain our normal annual activities, it is always better to be able to show visitors the fish and to let them feed the fish with us. Kids smile from ear to ear to see the fish flop and splash as they fight for the floating food pellets. Young parents frequently tell us how they remember coming as a child and how they want to share that with their own children.
Our mussel pond has been showing much promise lately for that program. The hatchery received some juvenile non-endangered fatmucket mussels, this summer and fall and they have produced the greatest growth we’ve ever seen. Our “flopsy” system is pumping water through the mollusk enclosure and the pond water has had a thriving zooplankton population to feed them well. We are currently looking for bigger and better opportunities to take this to the next level with restoring and repopulating endangered mussels, perhaps the Neosho mucket, and their host fish, the freshwater drum.
September was a busy month for us and our other big program – working with the federally endangered pallid sturgeon. May is the month for spawning these majestic creatures, and even though our female sturgeon released no eggs this year, our state partners at the Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery had great success. We ended up receiving half of their egg production, about 15,000 eggs. Those eggs turned into a bumper crop of tiny pallids. As a result, the two hatcheries had too many little sturgeon to raise for the normal 12 or more months – but this was a problem, we could live with! The Endangered Species team decided to stock out a majority of the four to five month old larval sturgeon, and keep about 3500 here for our traditional yearlong rearing period. September was made even busier because the pallid fry (about 20,000) had to be marked and tagged before release into the Missouri River. Due to their small size, each fish had a particular scute removed with a scalpel and was also injected with a colored elastomer tag on their snout. This process took most of a week’s time, and another week to distribute the young pallids to their new homes.
This fall also has a brand new project developing. We are in process of getting raceways ready to house our latest endangered fish species – the Topeka shiner. Officially called Notropis topeka, it appears as a small minnow with an olive-yellow back, dark-edged scales and silvery-white sides and belly. A dark stripe runs along their sides and extends on to their heads – with a total fish length of just a few inches. Another state hatchery has been working to breed and reintroduce these minnows, and they are now passing this baton on to us. We had two raceway series that have been unused for about a dozen years. They were previously used to house brown trout brood stock, but now will become home to these endangered minnows. To prepare for their arrival, any existing leaks were patched and all screens repaired. We also enclosed the raceway with a fine mesh fencing to help protect them from birds, humans and other would-be predators. It is known that Topeka shiners like to share nests with the orangespotted sunfish, letting the sunfish tend to the nesting site for them. Part of our ongoing learning curve will include these other fish and giving them a variety of nesting sites to choose from. We have constructed nesting boxes that are set at different depths for the fish to use. After a spawning season or two, we can evaluate which sites were most successfully utilized, and continue to develop our culture techniques for this important species.
Even though routine seems to be the usual word of the day, there is still some pretty exciting and innovative work going on here. We are proud of our history – being the oldest operating federal fish hatchery in the country – but we are also pushing forward to break new ground and help our agency to fulfill its mission of conserving, protecting and enhancing fish and other aquatic life for the benefit of everyone.