About Us

Since the late 1800's , our hatchery has been working to protect and restore a range of species native to the region. Our hatchery has a unique history, being the only hatchery that was run completely by volunteers before being bought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, we work to restore lake trout populations in the Lower Great Lakes by supplying lake trout eggs to other federal hatcheries. These eggs are hatched, grown and stocked into Lakes Ontario and Erie. The restoration efforts are part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

Our History

Located a half-mile north of the hamlet of Hartsville, the Berkshire National Fish Hatchery was founded in the late nineteenth century along the Konkapot River in the township of New Marlborough, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. The current property remained undeveloped until 1875, when Charles M. Camp and Jason Cooley of Great Barrington purchased a 10.5 acres site along the Konkapot River.  Camp’s independent financial resources played a large role in supporting the initial development of the hatchery; a common model for hatcheries during a period when early facilities were primarily operated by large landowners and wealthy gentlemen who considered themselves aquaculture hobbyists.

The hatchery movement in America was conceived in 1853, when Theodatus Garlick and Professor H. A. Ackley successfully fertilized the eggs of brook trout in a crude hatchery on a small spring near Cleveland, Ohio (Parker 1989). Around the same time, concerns over the substantial decline of several species of fish began to garner public attention. Among the causes for the decline were pollution, soil erosion, the construction of dams and mills along waterways, and the destruction of natural habitats. The alarming decline of anadromous brook trout prompted Massachusetts to form the state’s first Fisheries Commission in 1867 under the direction of Theodore Lyman. As hatcheries grew in popularity, Lyman, as well as other naturalists, began to accept the culturing and restocking of fish in streams and ponds by fish culturists as an effective solution to the loss in fish population (Cardoza 2015).  

The Berkshire Trout Hatchery Club was officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1891 (Tax Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1891:29). Consisting of 20 members, the president of the club was Colonel William L. Brown, former owner of the New York Daily News. The board of managers included Dr. Camp, Caleb Ticknor, owner of the Berkshire Inn, Charles Gilbert, prominent Great Barrington citizen, and William Danzell, president of the Danzell Axle Company. Capital stock was $2,000 divided into 20 shares at $100 each. By the mid-1890s, the Berkshire Hatchery was a reputable enterprise that supplied trout to ponds and streams throughout the state as well as to the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York.

Dr. Samuel Camp passed away in 1901 and the property remained under the ownership of his wife, Sarah J. Camp, until 1905, when Pittsburgh banker and philanthropist, John S. Scully, purchased the hatchery for $1.00 and other considerations including “all buildings, structures, all fish and tools, furniture and property with flowage and reservoir rights” (SBRD 1905 194:168).  Scully made considerable improvements to the hatchery complex, where he spent his summers along with his wife, Mary, and four children. Scully managed the hatchery and bred trout for both enjoyment and as a commercial venture until his death in October of 1914 (The Evening Star, 5 October 1914:4, BC, 8 October 1914:3). 

Two years after his death, in the spring of 1916, widow Mary E. Scully presented the 138-acre estate, including the hatchery, to the federal government as a memorial to her late husband, with the condition that it be used a fish hatchery and for experimental work in fish culture (SR, 4 May 1916:1). The gift was received by A.H. Dinsmore of the Bureau of Fisheries and officially dedicated with a memorial tablet in 1919 (SBRD 1919 224:385). Upon transfer, the hatchery underwent extensive renovations for the purpose of making the facility suitable for the large-scale rearing of fish. 

Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the hatchery distributed an average of 75,000 legal-size fish yearly to applicants in Massachusetts, eastern New York, Vermont, and Connecticut for fishing water (Giddings 21 April 1949:12). Species artificially propagated at the hatchery included speckled, rainbow, and brown trout and to a lesser extent small-mouthed bass. The trout-rearing program and resultant stocking practices replaced and replenished original species of fish where unnatural conditions had depleted the population, as well as continued to provide the continuous stocking of legal size trout in water where natural reproduction has been halted or minimized by “shoulder to shoulder” fishing (Watson 12 June 1948).

In 1965, the federal government began discussing the possibility of shutting down the hatchery, citing that larger hatcheries were more economical than smaller operations and the water supply at the Hartsville site was insufficient to permit expansion (Giddings 20 August 1971:15). As a short-term solution, the State Division of Fisheries and Game Board took over the operation of the facility. Just four years later, the Department of the Interior officially announced that they would be closing the Berkshire hatchery. In danger of abandonment, in July of 1969, the Berkshire chapter of the Izaak Walton League took over operation of the hatchery, marking the first time a federally owned facility was transferred to a private enterprise, while ownership remained in federal hands. Formed in 1922, the league was established in Chicago, Illinois to promote the protection of natural resources and outdoor recreation. The group was considered the first conservation organization with a membership of over 100,000 supporters by 1924 (Izaak Walton League of America 2018). The Berkshire Chapter was established in 1963. 

In a statement issued by the Izaak Walton League, the hatchery was committed to raising and distributing “disease-free trout,” as well as establishing a conservation education center for western Massachusetts. Forty thousand brook and rainbow trout from the federal hatchery in Nashua, New Hampshire provided the foundation for the project with the hopes that the hatchery would be self-sustaining in the coming years. Despite the skeptics, the fully volunteer-based operation successfully produced 200,000 trout in its first year, in addition to 100,000 Coho salmon fingerlings for a federal-state project to restock the North River in Plymouth County (Giddings 20 August 1971:18). 

Just two years later, the U.S. Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife served notice on the Izaak Walton League that it would be reacquiring ownership of the operation. The facilities were in demand to meet a “crucial need” for raising Atlantic salmon for a federal state project on the Connecticut River. By August of that year, the hatchery was back under full control of the U.S. Bureau and under the management of biological technician, Donald Williams (Giddings 20 August 1971:18). The program called for approximately one million eggs by the end of the year and three million for the following year. 

Throughout the late twentieth century, the hatchery played a principal role in the Connecticut River Salmon Restoration Program, a $40 million effort on the part of the federal government, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont to restore the native fish to the waterway. Once abundant throughout New England’s longest river, Atlantic salmon had largely disappeared by the early nineteenth century due to pollution, overfishing, habitat degradation, and dam construction. In the mid-1970s, nearly a decade after the program was initiated, the first hatchery-bred salmon were captured returning to the river. These salmon were transferred to the Hartsville Hatchery, where they were spawned, marking a milestone in the restoration program, and for the first time provided stock for the breed of a strain of salmon native to the river system. By the early 1980s, nearly 300 salmon had returned to the Connecticut River and were captured for breeding (Daily Press, 23 July 1981:65).  

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the hatchery was again threatened to be shut down after funding was eliminated under the Administration’s proposed budget (BC 24 November 1982:12). The facility managed to operate until 1994, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally closed the facility due to budgetary constraints. The hatchery was placed under the supervision of a caretaker until 1998, when the Western Massachusetts Center for Sustainable Aquaculture at Hampshire College proposed to utilize the facility for educational purposes and to assist the USFWS Fisheries Program, thus paving the way for the operation to be reopened. In 1999, a group of local individuals formed the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation and with the assistance of the WMCSA, began renovations on the neglected facility, which required major repairs. Under their care, the concrete pools were refurbished and the hatchery building retrofitted with new equipment and the following spring, the first fish arrived at the hatchery. Additional assistance was offered by the Gould Farm, the country’s oldest community-based psychiatric rehabilitation organization located just north of the hatchery property. The Gould Farm entered into a partnership with the hatchery in 2000 to aid in maintaining the facility in exchange for the use of one of the Quarter buildings to house staff (New Marlborough Historical Society 2000).  

In August of 2006, the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with the USFWS to operate the hatchery, making it the only federal fish hatchery with the service to be run completely by volunteers. Today, the hatchery is operated under the supervision of the USFWS and the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation with the mission of enhancing efforts to expand aquaculture knowledge as well as raising fish for local recreation and education. The hatchery continued to participate in the Connecticut River Restoration Program until it was suspended in 2014.  

Today the hatcheries focus is on restoring Seneca strain lake trout to the Great Lakes and providing native brook trout to support recreational fishing opportunities for the public.