Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery

31227 436th Ave. | Yankton, SD 57078
Phone: (605) 665-3352 | Email: gavinspoint@fws.gov

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Notice

Although most refuge and hatchery lands and outdoor spaces have remained open for the public to enjoy, we ask that you recreate responsibly.

  • Check the refuge or hatchery website and call ahead for current information. Operations vary based on local public health conditions.
  • The CDC recommends all individuals wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission. Recognizing that most of the United States is currently in substantial or high transmission categories and to best protect visitors and our staff, we’ve implemented a nationwide mask requirement. Masks are now required inside all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service buildings, regardless of vaccination status or location. All people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask on all forms of public transportation and in healthcare settings on DOI lands.
  • Most importantly, stay home if you feel sick and continue to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 and follow CDC guidance on how to protect yourself and others.

About The Hatchery

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About Us

Collage of Gavins Point NFH species. Credit: USFWS.

Collage of Gavins Point NFH species. Credit: USFWS.

Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery (NFH) and Aquarium, near Yankton, South Dakota, is strategically placed between Lake Yankton and the Missouri River. It is one of 70 federal hatcheries and fish technology centers operated nationwide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Gavins Point NFH offers fully guided group tours, fish feeding opportunities, two miles of nature trails and an aquarium featuring 10,000 gallons of display space and many local species of fish, amphibians and reptiles.



Fish Culture »

  • Bass fish. Credit: USFWS.

    Bass. Credit: USFWS.

  • Trout eggs. Credit: USFWS.

    Trout eggs. Credit: USFWS.

  • Walleye. Credit: USFWS.

    Walleye. Credit: USFWS.

Fish Culture
Our facility has produced over five billion fish since 1961.  We have worked with nearly 20 different species and expect to experiment with more as demands change in the waterways of the northern plains. 

Each species brings its own special needs requiring a variety of fish culture techniques.   Some species, such as those in the sunfish family, require little more than the proper habitat and they take care of much of the reproductive process on their own. We maintain a population of adult “broodstock” smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegill and black crappie in our 36 rearing ponds.  Each species spawns on its own in the spring.  A few weeks later we drain these specially-designed ponds and remove the offspring for stocking elsewhere.  Feel free to take a walk around our ponds if you visit.

Other species, such as pallid sturgeon and paddlefish, require a lot more hands-on work to get to reproduce in captivity.  Wild adult sturgeon and paddlefish are captured from the Missouri River each spring.  They are brought to our facility and held until spawning time.  When the fish are ready, we carefully remove the eggs from the females (non-surgically) and the milt from the males.   The two are mixed and the newly-fertilized eggs are placed into tall plastic jars.  Inflowing water keeps the eggs gently rolling in the jars until they hatch.   The tiny hatchlings (“fry”) are quickly moved to rearing tanks or, in the case of paddlefish, our large rearing ponds.  Depending on the stocking plan, they may be released into the wild in a matter of a few weeks or may be held for up to a year to give them a head start on growth. 

Spawing a wild Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Spawing a wild Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

We ship fish all over the Midwest (and sometimes beyond) through partnerships with state and tribal agencies.  We haul many of the fish to stocking sites ourselves, others get a quick trip through the mail or are picked up by our partner agencies.  Our haul trucks are equipped with insulated tanks, aerators and oxygen systems that make long trips to stocking sites very safe for the fish. 

A few of the fish we produce serve as research subjects at federal facilities and universities.  In one case we even sent paddlefish fry to India.  Among other things, pallid sturgeon from our facility have been used to research the spawning behavior and migration patterns of this endangered species.

Paddlefish and sturgeon typically are stocked into the Missouri River.  Walleye, the sunfish species, and yellow perch may end up as close as Lake Yankton (virtually in our “backyard”) or as far away as Nevada or Oklahoma.  Some fish are stocked as fry, often less than two weeks after hatching.  This method takes much less long-term labor but typically produces higher mortality rates.  Other fish are stocked as “fingerlings” (Iikely a few months old) or yearlings.  Larger fish typically have higher survival rates, but getting them to that size requires more investment in terms of food and labor.

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Game Fish »

Gavins Point NFH is considered a combination hatchery because the fish raised here are considered cold, cool or warm water fish. Listed below are three different fish species raised at our hatchery that are examples of fishes from each temperature category.

Rainbow Trout (cold water)
Where they ’ve been stocked: South Dakota
When they are raised: year-round

Rainbow trout require cold, oxygen-rich water. Eggs are shipped from other facilities to our hatchery throughout the year. We hatch them and raise the young in our buildings. Though we used to stock some trout into the wild, we are not currently doing so.  These days we raise trout to feed to our adult sturgeon and aquarium fish. Some trout are grown to a large size and kept at the hatchery for public outreach.  These are the fish on display in our outdoor raceway during the summer.   

Illustration of a Walleye fish. Credit: USFWS.

Illustration of a Walleye fish. Credit: USFWS.

Walleye (cool water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, and Iowa
When they are raised: April – June

Walleye is the state fish of South Dakota and one of the most sought-after game fish in the Midwest. The eggs and milt are collected in April from wild fish with the help of other state agencies. Some years, up to 100 million eggs are brought back to the hatchery. The walleye are either stocked out as fry in April or fingerlings in June.

Yellow Perch (cool water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, and Iowa When they are raised: April – June

Perch are closely related to the walleye and are raised in a unique way at the hatchery. Instead of hatching in tanks like most fish, perch eggs are placed on evergreen trees that are sunk to the bottom of the ponds. After sinking the eggs, the fish hatch and aren’t seen again until it is time for harvest.

Illustration of a Largemouth Bass. Credit: USFWS.

Illustration of a Largemouth Bass. Credit: USFWS.

Largemouth Bass (warm water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mexico
When they are raised: May – July

Adult largemouth bass are held at the hatchery year-round and spawn naturally in the outdoor ponds. In June, the adults are separated from the fry, which stay in the ponds to finish their culture cycle. We regularly separate the young bass based on size because they are known to be very cannibalistic.

Smallmouth Bass (warm water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, and Nebraska
When they are raised: May – July

Like the largemouth bass, adult smallmouths are held at the hatchery year-round and spawn naturally in the ponds. Smallmouth is one of the newest species at the hatchery. They are known for their copper color and tiger like stripes, giving them the nickname “bronzebacks.” Smallmouth prefer cooler and deeper waters than largemouth.

Bluegill (warm water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska
When they are raised: May – August

Bluegills are considered the most popular pan fish in the Midwest. Like the bass, our bluegills spawn naturally in the earth ponds. Bluegills are a part of the sunfish family, which allows them to form many hybrids in the wild. Our bluegills are typically stocked in smaller bodies of water as a sport fish and as forage for the bigger fish.

Black Crappie (warm water)
Where they’ve been stocked: South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska
When they are raised: May – August

Black crappies are another popular pan fish that are stocked in smaller bodies of water. They spawn at similar temperatures as the bluegill, which allows us to harvest both species at the same time. We have adult black crappies that live in our earth ponds year-round.

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Endangered and Threatened Species »

Although Gavins Point NFH raises many types of sport fish, their primary work is propagation and management of endangered and threatened species.

Spawing a wild Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Spawning a wild Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Pallid Sturgeon
This unique and ancient species is found only in the Missouri and Mississippi River drainages.  It has been on the endangered species list since 1990 and much work has been done towards the goal of population recovery.  This species is highly adapted to the big river habitat that was present before the Missouri was dammed and channelized.  Pallid sturgeon have struggled to adapt to these changes. It is hoped that hatchery production coupled with habitat management will one day restore self-sustaining populations of this interesting species.

Pallid sturgeon can live more than 50 years and grow to more than 60 pounds. They are a bottom-feeder that typically feeds on invertebrates for the first few years of life before transitioning to a fish diet. Their tiny eyes, sensitive barbels, and electrical sensors located in their snout (rostrum) tell us that this is a fish built for muddy water.

Wild adult sturgeon are captured from the river and spawned at our facility each year.  Their offspring are spread out to multiple stocking points along the flowing reach of the Missouri River.  Each year a few individuals are selected to be held at the hatchery as part of our captive broodstock program.  We have representatives from each year-class of pallid sturgeon produced here going back nearly 20 years.  These fish can be used for research, to achieve specific genetic crosses, or possibly to “start over” if the wild population disappears.

Baby paddlefish. Credit: USFWS.

Baby paddlefish. Credit: USFWS.

Paddlefish are a Missouri River native that has struggled with habitat changes and overfishing. Hatchery production augments natural reproduction and in some cases is enough to allow for tightly controlled sportfishing seasons.

Wild adult paddlefish are captured near the mouth of the Niobrara or White Rivers (Missouri River tributaries) each spring.  They are brought to the hatchery where they are soon spawned.  Their offspring spend the first few weeks of life in our small indoor tanks before being moved outdoors into larger tanks or holding ponds.  Some are released into the Missouri within a few weeks and others are held and grown to a larger size until late summer. These fish can be 12” long in just a few months. 

Most of the paddlefish produced by this hatchery are stocked into Lake Francis Case (a Missouri River reservoir near Chamberlain, SD).  Numbers range from 20,000 to 50,000 per year, based on size at stocking and the success of the spawn.  The wild adults that provided the eggs and sperm are released back into the river shortly after spawning.

Blue sucker. Credit: USFWS.

Blue sucker. Credit: USFWS.

Blue Suckers
Though still common in the reach of Missouri River near our facility, blue suckers are a species that is struggling range wide. This is somewhat of an “experimental” species for our facility. Our hope is to develop techniques to consistently spawn them in captivity so that we can assist the population if it continues to decline. We capture wild adults from the local Missouri each spring and try different approaches to producing a successful set of offspring.

Blue suckers are a powerful fish that was built for fast and turbulent water.  They are often found in the rocky areas of the flowing Missouri River downstream from Gavins Point Dam.   This species feeds primarily on invertebrates and algae found along the bottom.


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The Aquarium »

  • Turtle poking head out of white sand.  Credit: USFWS.

    Turtle. Credit: USFWS.

  • Bass. Credit: USFWS.

    Turtle. Credit: USFWS.

Gavins Point NFH has 10,000 gallons of displays in our aquarium.  We house many species native to the Missouri River, endangered and threatened fish, invasive species and unusual species. Get a close-up look at softshell turtles, pallid sturgeon, giant bullfrogs, sportfish, salamanders and many others in a visit to our facility.  There is no charge to enter and a gift shop is open on summer weekends.  The aquarium is open 6 months of the year.  Please note our hours below.

Educational signs adjacent to each display offer information about the species within, making this an excellent stop for those with an interest in aquatic ecology.  Many school groups partner a trip to the aquarium along with a scheduled tour of the hatchery facility, making for an excellent field trip.  

Please note that the aquarium is closed until further notice.

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Youth Conservation Corps Program »

Youth Conservation Corps student holding a frog. Credit: USFWS.

Youth Conservation Corps student holding a frog. Credit: USFWS.

Gavins Point NFH has been participating in the Youth Conservation Corps Program since 2011.  We typically hire two high school students for the summer.  The eight-week program is designed to provide youth with exposure to natural resource management as a career option.  While working with us the students will be experience many different facets of the fish culture profession.

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Public Information »

Outreach and Education Programs

Each year, about 80 different school groups and organizations tour Gavins Point NFH. Between guided tours and unguided visits we get nearly 100,000 visitors per year that come from all over the world.

Our outreach programs are a great way to share information about aquatic ecology. If your class or group is looking for a speaker, give us a call.  We have a fulltime outreach and education staff member that gives tours and presentations and he is often available to travel within a reasonable distance from Yankton.  Topics can range from “fish of the Missouri” to “invasive species” and can be tailored for any age. Basic hatchery tours typically last 30 minutes and are followed by a visit to the aquarium. We host many school groups (of all ages) each year. Call to get on the schedule.

We also participate in various programs and events in the local area.  These range from Trout in the Classroom (local schools) to having fish “touch tanks” at events like the Lake Yankton Festival and Step Outside program.  A big highlight of our outreach program is the Kids’ Fishing Derby, hosted on a Saturday each April.  Nearly 200 kids come out each year to try their hand at catching our hefty rainbow trout.  Watch our social media pages for more details.

In 2013, Gavins Point NFH launched its social media campaign. Through multiple outlets, hatchery staff has been able to reach about 50,000 people a year.

To learn about volunteer opportunities at Gavins Point NFH:http://www.volunteer.gov/

To like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GavinsPointNationalFishHatchery
To follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GavinsPointNFH
To view us on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/

Gavins Point NFH area map.

Gavins Point NFH area map. Credit: USFWS.

Map Highlights

  1. 1) Aquarium - Thirteen indoor tanks display many of the fish, reptile, and amphibian species found in the Missouri River basin, along with informational displays on endangered, threatened, and unusual species.

  2. 2) Public Parking - for hatchery visitors.

  3. 3) Hatchery Building - Contains a small exhibit area, administrative offices, 2 hatching jar batteries, 9 indoor cement tanks, workshop, and feed room. Visitors are welcome to view the eggs in the hatching jars and the fish being raised in the tanks.

  4. 4) Raceways - Eight outdoor raceways are used to rear trout and to temporarily hold other species.

  5. 5) Rearing Ponds - Six 1/6 acre and 30 1.3-acre earthen ponds are used to for raising cool and warm water fish. Visitors are welcome to walk around the ponds, but please use caution as the ponds are 7 feet deep.

  6. 6) Sturgeon Building - Ten circular tanks are used to hold and rear endangered pallid sturgeon and other "species of concern" from the Missouri River drainage. For the protection of the fish, the building is closed to the public except by guided tours.

  7. 7) Endangered Species Building - Thirty two circular tanks are used to hold and rear endangered pallid sturgeon and other "species of concern" from the Missouri River drainage. For the protection of the fish, the building is closed to the public except by guided tours.

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Newsletters »

Contact Us »

Project Leader: Nick Starzl
(605) 665-3352 x102

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: August 19, 2021
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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