The Inks Dam NFH facility is dedicated to the Fisheries Program to maintain and implement a comprehensive set of tools and activities to conserve and manage self-sustaining populations of native fish and other aquatic resources. These tools and activities are linked to management and recovery plans and help achieve restoration and recovery goals, provide recreational benefits, and address federal trust responsibilities. Sound science, effective partnerships, and careful planning and evaluation are integral to conservation and management efforts.
Partnerships, Accountability and Cooperation with Native Americans
Partnerships are a high priority at Inks Dam NFH. We will continually work to strengthen our existing partnerships; as well as develop new ones, to facilitate efficient and effective fisheries conservation and management. With the support and cooperation of Native Americans in Region 2, the Fisheries Program is more proficient at conserving and managing aquatic resources. Inks Dam NFH plays a vital role in this partnership.
The hatchery's primary growth of channel catfish is to fulfill the Service's Tribal Trust responsibilities. Of the approximate 135,000 catchable sized catfish raised annually about 100,000 - 125,000 of these fish are stocked into the Tribal waters of the Pueblo of Zuni, Pueblo of Zia, Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan), and Jicarilla Apache Tribe of New Mexico. The fish distributed to these Tribal waters provide recreational fishing opportunities for tribal members as well as visitors who use Tribal lands for recreation and tourism.
Additional fish are supplied to other state and federal programs. In the past we have provided the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and New Mexico Game and Fish hatcheries with catfish fry to supplement their hatchery production, assisted tribes and the state of Arizona with Largemouth bass, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has received fry, fingerling, and catchable fish stockings for their Neighborhood Fishing Program at locations such as the Highland Lakes, Millers Pond, and Hi-Lions Park, the U.S. Department of Defense also receives catchable sized catfish for recreational fishing on federal lands such as Fort Hood.
The hatchery also uses some of the catfish for annual fishing derbies. The hatchery has supplied fish for fishing derbies such as the Burnet County Kids Day, the Llano Kids Fishing day, the cities of Georgetown, San Saba, Round Rock, and the Fishing Expo in Marble Falls.
Currently we care for a wild refugium population of Clear Creek Gambusia that has been brought into captivity while habitat recovery actions progress in their endemic stretch of Clear Creek, located in Menard County, Texas.
We have also been improving our facilities to take on twelve Unionid mussels found in the Colorado River drainage, as well as Edwards Aquifer species, Fountain darter and San Marcos Salamander, should the drought threats require the listing of these species in the future.
Paddlefish Restoration and Recovery
We work with Tishomingo NFH and the Oklahoma Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office to restore the Red River and Arkansas River strains of paddlefish. Every spring USFWS staff collect wild paddlefish and spawn them at the Tishomingo NFH. Our facility receives extra fry for grow out to provide increased space for production and to help develop techniques to increase survival of paddlefish fry. Once we receive the 1/8 inch fry we grow them out to about 12 - 14" in 4 to 5 months before returned them to Tishomingo NFH so they can be tagged and released.
Water Quality Management
Warm water fish culture ponds commonly have water quality issues such as high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, and the buildup of nitrogenous wastes, especially during summer months when feed rates are at their highest. The environmental challenges faced at the hatchery include low dissolved oxygen levels in the incoming surface water from Inks Lake and the severe Texas drought conditions.
As a first line of defense, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, and pH readings are taken each morning in all the ponds and each culture tank in production. These readings are repeated in the afternoon and evenings for ponds where poor water quality is observed. Secchi disk measurements are also routinely taken to gauge the primary productivity associated with algal blooms. The data collected from this monitoring is then used to make fish culture and pond management decisions.
Water quality monitoring allows us to adjust feeding rates and schedules as needed to accommodate increased fish metabolism during periods of high water temperature and low dissolved oxygen levels. Monitoring and managing the production of stable algal blooms through the use of inorganic fertilizers helps us add additional oxygen to the ponds.
Fish Health Monitoring and Treatment
The USFWS uses standardized fish health testing procedures and protocols to allow fisheries biologists and managers to make informed decisions for risk management involving the movement of fish from one location to another. Testing of fish is to negate any possibility of transfer of pathogens to fish residents under production at the hatchery or wild fish at the varying stocking locations, and part of the annual fish health inspection.
Spawning typically starts around the first week of June but it is dependant on water temperature. Once the water temperature reaches and maintains a constant 75 degrees F, spawning starts to occur. Propagation techniques of channel catfish at Inks Dam NFH are simple, safe and similar to natural spawning conditions. In early spring, spawning cans are placed into ponds to allow for the fish to lay their eggs. Once a nest is selected and eggs are fertilized, the male channel catfish will guard the nest until the eggs are collected by hatchery staff. After the eggs are collected they are placed into hatching trays, hatched out, and raised to sizes appropriate for stocking.
Fish raised at the hatchery are fed a variety of commercial feeds and sizes throughout the production cycle. At very young life stages feeding can occur up to ten times per day due to their high metabolic rates. Biologists monitor fish growth and other criteria to determine the appropriate sizes, types and amounts of feed for each of the species we care for.
In 2008, the hatchery implemented an Integrated Pest Management Plan, which we continue to improve with new techniques each year. The plan describes the various methods of identifying, preventing and treating target plant and animal pests that occur at the hatchery so that pest infestations can be identified early, controlled faster, and prevent the release of pest species through Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) planning. By utilizing a variety of mechanical and cultural techniques we are able to decrease reliance on chemicals and/or the quantity of chemicals used while still maintaining treatment efficacy by limiting pest populations through other means.
To reduce the likelihood of wild fish and other aquatic nuisance species from entering the facility a highly sophisticated filtration system has been installed on the main water line that draws surface water from Inks Lake. This system has nearly eliminated non-target species, which can spread disease among the hatchery stocks, from entering the ponds. The decrease in aquatic nuisance species present in the ponds has improved our HACCP compliance during fish sorting and loading.