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A sign for the visitor and environmental education center.
Information icon Welcome to Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery. Photo by Robert H Pos, USFWS.

About the hatchery

What we do

Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is supported by federal tax dollars. Fish raised in federal hatcheries are stocked in public waters to support federal fishery responsibilities mandated by law. These responsibilities include:

  • to provide fish for mitigation where, for example, human-made dams have prevented fish from reaching their spawning habitat;
  • to recover threatened or endangered populations;
  • to restore interjurisdictional fish populations, or to support depleted recreational fish populations in federal and state waters.

Over a century ago, society recognized that conservation measures were necessary to maintain sustainable fishing in our public waters. Fishing has always been one of America’s leading forms of outdoor recreation. The primary responsibility of the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery is to raise rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout which will help preserve this tradition for present and future generations of Americans.

Construction of a dam, regardless of its type, alters the entire river ecosystem. The first and most obvious change takes place when the reservoir fills, but many changes take place below the dam.

Wolf Creek Dam produces a large, deep reservoir in which the water stratifies into temperature layers during the summer and fall months. The water released into the Cumberland River comes from a deep, cool layer, which replaced the original warm water fish habitat with a “cold tailwater”.

How we do it

This station does not conduct spawning operations. Other federal hatcheries in Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Montana hold adult trout (broodstock) which are artificially spawned. After the eggs are collected and fertilized, they are held at the station until they develop to the eyed egg stage. The eggs are then shipped overnight to production hatcheries like Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery to hatch. When the station receives eggs they are disinfected to prevent the spread of fish diseases. The eggs are counted using volumetric displacement and then placed in hatching jars.

Eggs hatch approximately 10-14 days later. The fry are then transferred to rearing tanks where they remain another 10-14 days until they absorb their nutrient dense yolk sacs. As the yolk sacs are absorbed, the fry swim to the water surface and are fed specially formulated feed hourly. When the young fry reach approximately 2 inches they are called fingerlings. When the fingerlings grow 2-3 inches they are moved to the outside raceways where the larger fish are kept.

Fish production

Rainbow trout

  • 13,700 lbs. - 10,000 fish at 15 inches
  • 9,350 lbs. - 13,550 fish at 12 inches
  • 47,950 lbs. - 119,800 fish at 10 inches
  • 155,000 lbs. - 492,975 fish at 9 inches

Brown trout

  • 2,100 lbs. - 3,000 fish at 12 inches​
  • 9,425 lbs. - 45,150 fish at 8 inches
  • 15 lbs. - 150 fish at 6 inches

Brook trout

  • 7,825 lbs. - 25,000 fish at 9 inches
  • 4 lbs. - 300 fish at 3 inches

Cutthroat trout

  • 7,825 lbs. - 25,000 fish at 9 inches

Economic impact

The direct economic benefit of fish produced at the Wolf Creek NFH to the Kentucky economy is $50 million annually. The indirect benefit is estimated at over $75 million.

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