Erwin National Fish Hatchery
Southeast Region
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Our Mission and Who We Are

Over a century ago, it was recognized that conservation measures were necessary to maintain good fishing in our public waters. Fishing has probably always been one of America’s leading forms of outdoor recreation. As part of the National Broodstock Program, Erwin National Fish Hatchery produces rainbow trout eggs that are shipped nationwide to other hatcheries to help preserve this tradition for present as well as future generations of Americans.

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery is one of more than 72 units in the National Fish Hatchery System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service also manages more than 560 national wildlife refuges and major fish and wildlife research laboratories across the country. As the Nation’s primary steward of fish and wildlife resources, the Service provides leadership in habitat and wetlands protection; fish and wildlife research and technical assistance; and in the conservation and protection of migratory birds, anadromous fishes, certain marine mammals, and threatened and endangered species.

What We Do

Established in 1894 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Erwin National Fish Hatchery produces 10-13 million disease-free eggs annually from four strains of rainbow trout broodstock. These eggs are shipped to other Federal, State and Tribal hatcheries to support their fishery management efforts. The station also provides eggs to research centers, classrooms, and universities.  Broodstock operations are performed in a manner that will preserve or optimize the genetic diversity of hatchery fish.

How We Do It

Following spawning operations, freshly fertilized eggs are measured into egg jar incubators located in the hatchery building. The eggs are incubated for 14 days until they reach the “eyed” stage. They are then sorted and shipped to various hatcheries and research facilities. This hatchery ships approximately 10 to 13 million eggs per year. A small number of eggs are hatched and reared for use as future broodstock. These fish are raised in the hatchery building tanks until they are 3-4 inches in length. They are then transferred to the outside raceways.

Future broodstock are fed and cared for in the upper production raceways after transfer from the hatchery building tanks.  Fish remain in the upper production raceways until they are one-year-old. They are then moved to the lower broodstock raceways for rearing during their second year of life. They are fed a special diet formulated specifically to provide all essential nutrients necessary for gonad development.

Adult brood fish are held in the lower broodstock raceways, and mature when they are two years old. At this age, male and female fish are separated in preparation for spawning. Female fish are checked once a week for ripeness. Eggs from ripe females are collected in pans and fertilized with milt from male fish. The freshly fertilized eggs are then taken into the hatchery building and placed in jar incubators. Following spawning, the old brood fish are distributed by truck to other hatcheries, lakes, and streams. A new year class of broodstock will take their place during the next year. The weatherports (large, white dome tents) that cover the raceways provide broodstock with protection from the sun and predacious birds.

The pumphouses and free flowing spring provide 1000 gallons per minute of spring water to the upper raceways and recirculate used water through the lower broodstock raceways. Water that passes through the lower raceways is collected and pumped back to the aeration building, where oxygen is added to the reused water. The water is then recirculated through the broodstock raceways. The main water supply to the hatchery produces 1000 gallons per minute of constant 55F water. The spring has been covered with rock to prevent introduction of disease organisms.


Hatchery phone number: (423) 743-4712

Hatchery fax: (423) 743-9793

Erwin National Fish Hatchery Staff Directory

Name Position Email Address
Tyler Hern Hatchery Manager
Larry Scott Sellers Deputy Hatchery Manager
David Teague Fish Biologist
Matthew Padgett Biological Science
Makenzie Foster Biological Science Technician

About our Fish

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout prefer cold, fresh water that seldom exceeds 65F.  They are managed for recreational fishing and to mitigate losses caused by water development projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I purchase a fishing license?
    To review Tennessee fishing regulations and to purchase a license, please contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency at 1-888-814-8972 or visit them online at The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does not issue fishing licenses.
  • What is the Heritage Museum?
    Built in 1903, this building served as the Hatchery Superintendent’s residence. In 1982, the Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a cooperative agreement with Unicoi County for use of the building as a local heritage museum. The museum contains several exhibits that interpret local history.
  • When is the Heritage Museum open? The Museum is open daily from 1PM – 5PM, May 1 through October 31.
  • Why do we need federal hatcheries and who pays for them? This is a national fish hatchery which is supported by tax dollars. Fish raised on Federal hatcheries are stocked in public waters to support Federal fishery responsibilities mandated by law. These include fish for restoration where, for example, man-made dams have altered a stream’s natural reproductive capability; or to restore threatened or endangered populations. Fish are also used to support recreational fishing programs in Federal and state waters. Revenue generated from the eggs and fish produced at Erwin National Fish Hatchery generates three million dollars in tax revenues and 20 million dollars in retail sales from fishermen.
  • How do you get the eggs from the fish?
    Personnel from the hatchery each week during the spawning season select female rainbow trout that are ready to release their eggs. The following day, the eggs are squeezed by hand into a bowl. Water and sperm from males are added and the eggs are fertilized. The eggs are then placed into incubators.
  • What do you do with the eggs?
    When the eggs are 2 weeks old, they are shipped to other hatcheries where they are hatched out to be reared to stocking size (approximately nine inches). What do you do with the parent fish? When the “broodfish” are no longer needed for eggs, they are stocked in public fishing waters in Eastern Tennessee or given to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina for their recreational fishing program.
  • Where did you stock this week?
    Since the hatchery has no “official” stocking program, the hatchery relies on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for any stocking announcements.
  • Do you give tours of the hatchery?
    Yes, the hatchery does give guided tours to groups if arrangements are made in advance. The facilities are also open to the public for self-guided tours.

Economic Impact

Erwin National Fish Hatchery has a substaintially positive impact on our nation's economy.

2013 economic data

A painting by Robert W. Hines of a rainbow trout jumping against a black background

Painting by Robert W. Hines for USFWS of a rainbow trout jumping. Download.

Last updated: February 26, 2021