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 American's leading form of outdoor recreation. The Welaka National Fish Hatchery is endeavoring to preserve this tradition for present as well as future generations of Americans.
Welaka is a warmwater hatchery. That is, the species of fish raised here do best in summer water temperatures that reach 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In it's 41 ponds, the facility raises between 4.5 to 5 million fish annually. Species vital to the fishery resources of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the coastal United States are raised here and stocked in cooperation with the various State game and fish agencies.
What We Do:
The Welaka National Fish Hatchery was built in 1926 and originally operated by the State of Florida. In 1938 the hatchery was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ponds are operated at two locations. Those ponds at headquarters, near the aquarium, are called the Welaka Unit, and a second group of ponds about three miles south of headquarters is called the Beecher Unit. The Beecher Unit is named for the spring that serves as the water supply. Beecher Spring has a flow of 4,000 gallons per minute at a constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Water for the Welaka Unit comes from a well 423 feet deep and also from the St. Johns River.
How We Do It:
To elaborate on one species, the Welaka National Fish hatchery is part of a major national emphasis on restoring the Gulf Coast Striped Bass (also called rockfish).
Adult stripers, captured from our rivers and reared at the hatchery, provide the eggs for the hatchery program. Once the eggs and milt (sperm) are taken, the adults taken from the wild are returned to their native waters.
The fertilized eggs are incubated, and the larval fry that hatch from the eggs are cultured artificially. Newborn fish have their own food supply in an attached yolk sac. After this source is absorbed, the tiny fish are transferred to hatchery rearing ponds where they feed on a natural diet of microscopic organisms. Young striped bass are particularly vulnerable to pollution, starvation, and predators during these stages and in the wild, untold numbers are lost. However, on the hatchery the fish are protected and experience the best possible conditions for surviving.
After 25 to 40 days, these fish grow to an average length of 2 inches and some are stocked at this size. Others are held and fed scientifically formulated diets to attain maximum growth. By the fall, these fish have reached a size of 6 to 8 inches and are ready for stocking. These larger fish are stocked into special areas of selected river systems and tributaries from which they originated. Fishery managers expect that these supplemental stockings will help restore depleted striped bass populations. A number of fish are tagged, enabling biologists to evaluate the success of the stocking programs.
About Our Fish
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I purchase a fishing license?
To review Florida fishing regulations and to purchase a license, please contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-347-4356 or visit them online at http://myfwc.com/license/.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does not issue fishing licenses.
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.
What kind of fish do you raise?
Welaka National Fish Hatchery is a warmwater fish hatchery which means we raise fish that do best in water temperatures above 65 degrees. Current species in production at this facility include striped bass, largemouth bass, and the threatened Gulf of Mexico sturgeon.
Where do you stock your fish? Do you only stock fish in Florida?
Although our primary area focuses on river and lake systems in Florida, Welaka NFH provides fish to six southeastern states to aid in their fish restoration efforts.
How do you get the eggs from the fish?
Personnel from Welaka NFH, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources collect adult “broodfish” from the wild during spawning runs. These adult fish are transported to Welaka NFH and monitored for gamete maturation. When gametes are viable, eggs are manually stripped into a bowl, sperm is added and the eggs are fertilized. These eggs are hatched and then either stocked in grow-out ponds or shipped to other facilities.
Do you provide fish to private individuals?
This was once a function of the National Fish Hatchery system. “Farm pond” stocking is not considered a Federal responsibility, and fish are no longer provided to individuals. All the fish raised at this facility are stocked into public waters.
Do you give tours of the hatchery?
Welaka National Fish Hatchery has an active public use program. The hatchery maintains a 25-tank public aquarium, a nature observation tower, and a 3/4-mile nature trail. All facilities are open to the public for self-guided tours. Large groups are given tours by station personnel if arrangements are made in advance.
Contact the Hatchery Office at 386-467-2374 for more details and to learn about a variety of exciting volunteer opportunities.