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Fish Hatcheries Feeling Effects of North Georgia Drought


August 22, 2000


Kyla Hastie, USFWS, 706/613-9493 x36

Melissa Cummings, GADNR, 770/918-6400

Chris Tollefson 202/208-5634

Georgia's federal and state hatchery managers are maintaining trout production goals despite damaging drought conditions. To combat the effects of this year's drought on fish hatcheries and stocked trout, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are implementing contingency measures to protect fish health.

Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery, located near Suches, Georgia, uses cold water from Rock Creek and Mill Creek, which are tributaries to the Toccoa River. Each year the hatchery releases 324,500 stockable size trout throughout North Georgia's popular fishing areas such as Rock Creek, Coopers Creek, Toccoa River, Cane Creek, and Winfield Scott Lake. In addition, 460,000 rainbow trout fingerlings (4-inch trout) are provided to Georgia's State hatcheries each year. The Federal hatchery together with Buford, Burton and Summerville state fish hatcheries produce over one million trout stocked annually into north Georgia waters.

"Some minor confusion occurred during the first year of implementation, but we hope that the guidance provided to our officers, their state counterparts, and hunters this summer will effectively address these concerns," said Kevin Adams, Chief, Office of Law Enforcement. "We also plan to revise the relevant sections of the regulations to avoid any future uncertainty about when hunting is or is not legal."

But in the past 15 years, the hatchery has seen a 35 percent decrease in average annual water flow. And hatchery officials expect the 2000 average to be even lower.

"With water levels dropping, we've had to shut down about 40 percent of our raceways," said Deborah Burger, Assistant Manager at Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery. "We just aren't getting enough water to support the full capacity of the hatchery."

Despite these difficult conditions, Burger says the hatchery has continued to achieve the annual commitment of 460,000 fingerlings and the 324,500 stockables.

"We've worked closely with the Georgia DNR this spring and summer to minimize drought impacts on the cooperative stocking program. Our fingerling trout transfers to the State were done earlier than normal to provide additional rearing space for summer stockables," said Burger. "The additional space enhances fish health and growth by reducing stress from overcrowding. And unless conditions worsen, we'll meet our goals again this year."

Statewide, trout stocking was accelerated this spring to prepare for the drought.

"The four hatcheries stocked about 85% of the one million trout by July 4 to prepare for low, hot water," said Hal Chestnutt, Georgia DNR Trout Stocking Coordinator. "The remaining 15% of stockable trout are scheduled for release by Labor Day in streams with suitable temperatures."

But Burger and Chestnutt are concerned that conditions may get worse. August is usually the driest and hottest month of the year, and federal and state hatchery staffs are preparing to handle even greater challenges.

"Flows right now are about 3500 gallons per minute, and the water is about 70 degrees at Chattahoochee Hatchery. If we reach 2500 gallons per minute or 73 degrees, the fish will be too stressed, and we'll run the risk of fish kills or disease," said Burger. According to Burger, many locations where the hatchery normally releases the trout also have high water temperatures and low flows. In fact, the hatchery has had to stop releasing fish into many portions of the Toccoa River drainage because of the risks to fish survival.


1875 Century Blvd.,

Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286



Release #: N00-006

2000 News Releases

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