Fish stocking about more than just numbers

Published on Saturday, 7 June 2014 23:32 - Written by Steve Knight

Trucks loaded with bass, stripers and catfish are on the road from five state hatcheries around Texas.

Make that four. The Dundee hatchery near drought-stricken Wichita Falls remains high and dry.

In a good year the department will stock 14 to 15 million fish, about half of what local biologists request for their lakes. That production might include as many as 8 million largemouth, 2 million stripers and another 2 million hybrid striped bass. It also includes 800,000 channel catfish, 450,000 blue cats, a total of 300,000 Guadalupe and smallmouth bass and even 500,000 bluegill.

This isn’t expected to be a banner year for production because Dundee’s ongoing situation has force production to be moved around among the other facilities, resulting in less production than normal.

That is just one of the things that can impact production, where the goal is more than getting brood fish to spawn, it is getting that spawn up to stocking size.

“Unseasonable or severe weather like drought, flood or late cold fronts, unfavorable environmental condition like toxic golden algae blooms, access to and availability of wild brood stock including striped bass, white bass, and mechanical failure of critical hatchery equipment or human error can all reduce production,” said Dave Terre, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Fisheries Chief of Management and Research.

While production of Florida bass will always be the system’s top priority because of its title as the state’s most sought-after species, Texas’ hatcheries have to stay nimble and ready to shift production. The state is big and conditions vary from one end to the other making production of one species or another important based on the situation.

“Priorities vary from year to year based on anticipated needs. In 2013 and 2014 striped bass and hybrids have been a top priority since the Dundee Fish Hatchery was out of service and striped bass and hybrids production had been below average for several years,” Terre explained.

With both being popular put-and-take fisheries the department has scrambled in recent years to match production to demand because of the lack of production at Dundee, the main striper and hybrid hatchery, since 2011 and because of problems collecting brood fish some years. Texas has 10 lakes with stripers and 28 with hybrids. Because of reduced production again it looks like only eight of the nine lakes biologists requested for striper stockings will get fish and only about 10 of 25 will receive hybrids.

Biologists typically request 4.8 to 5 million of the fish combined, while production runs between 4 and 5 million. So far this year the department has produced more than twice the numbers of stripers that it has hybrids in an attempt to make up for bad year classes in 2011 and 2013.

Hybrid and striper stockings are something of a rarity when it comes to stocking fish in Texas because they are one of the few cases it is done to increase stocks. In most other cases fisheries populations are controlled by limits and stocking serves other purposes.

“In the case of Florida bass, we want to keep those (Florida bass) genes in the population so we stock them periodically to maintain that. If we stopped stocking them, we think the genetics might revert back to northern strains especially in East Texas. It really comes down to selective advantages of the two subspecies,” Terre said.

The department also stocks bass and other species to rebuild populations that have be depleted by things like golden algae, which has impacted lakes in the western portion of the state, oxygen depletion such as what happened at Fairfield Lake and even hurricanes.

In recent years drought has also created a need for hatchery fingerlings, and with more West Texas lakes seeing levels rising that could be more the case in coming years. Terre said recovering lakes receive top priority, but there is more to the decision of restocking than water level.

“Timing is important and it’s still based on the biologist’s recommendation. The lake must have significant improvements in habitat to help ensure stocking success. Often times biologists will make their recommendation contingent upon a rise in water level and inundation of new habitat. Keep in mind, there are many factors that determine if a lake should/needs to be stocked,” the biologist explained.

One thing fishermen need to remember is just because a lake is stocked with a half-million fingerlings doesn’t been they will grow into that many adult fish.

“Fingerling stocking survival can be expected to be less than 10 percent. This is no different than what you might expect for a natural-born fish of the same size. We stock fingerlings mostly because it’s gives us a good balance between stocking survival and cost to produce,” Terre said.

But with the quality of fishing on most Texas lakes it is hard to argue with the success.