July 1, 2008

Bath Hatchery Upgrades Come at a Price

By Mark Taylor [email protected] 981-3395

Bath County's fat, feathered fish poachers are going on a diet.

Their all-you-can-eat buffet, the Coursey Springs Fish Hatchery, is closing its doors for renovations.

The 18- to 24-month closure will lead to a couple of lean seasons for Virginia's trout anglers, too.

But while those anglers will eventually reap a payoff from the $12 million project in the form of bigger stocked trout, the birds won't be so fortunate: Predators won't be able to get in to the new hatchery.

"They've been eating us out of house and home," said Ron Southwick, assistant director of the Fisheries Division of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "They have been eating tens of thousands of fish."

Pumping out 13,000 gallons of water per minute, Coursey Springs is one of the state's most productive springs. Despite the incredible water source, predation is a primary reason that the hatchery isn't as productive as it could be.

Other problems at the four-decades-old facility include archaic earthen raceways that are inefficient and so shallow the fish actually get sunburned, their adipose fins withering as the trout repeatedly break the surface to feed.

When the renovation is complete the hatchery's production potential could jump by 50 percent, from 225,000 pounds to 350,000 pounds of trout annually.

The agency doesn't have plans to increase the number of trout it produces when Coursey Springs reopens, sticking close to the 1.2 million fish it currently stocks. However, the increased capacity should allow the DGIF to grow bigger fish throughout its five coldwater hatchery system.

"Small fish are the number one thing we get complaints about," Southwick said. "Our goal is to stock a 10- to 12-inch fish."

Even at its diminished production, Coursey Springs was responsible for producing 30 percent of the trout in the put-and- take program, so anglers will notice a difference in the fishing in the two years the hatchery is off line.

"We are not going to reduce the number of fish per stocking," Southwick said. "We're going to reduce the number of stockings."

Category A waters will receive six stockings from October through May, down from the current eight. Category B waters, stocked five times annually under the current program, will get four stockings. Stockings on Category B, urban and Delayed Harvest waters will be reduced from three to two during the closure.

Put-and-grow waters, which are stocked with trout fingerlings, won't be affected.

The renovated hatchery will feature circular, gravity-fed stainless steel tanks. Thirty inches deep, the tanks will be much more efficient than linear raceways, according to fisheries officials.

Importantly, the tanks will be in a simple enclosed, lockable building that will keep out sun and predators.

Great blue herons have been by far the biggest problem at the hatchery. Southwick said a resident population of more than 100 of the birds regularly work the waters for their meals.

Hatchery workers have unsuccessfully tried a number of tactics to thwart the birds, including noisemakers and protective netting.

"They came in at night and had a feast," Southwick said. "They had a clock. They knew exactly when the staff came in."

Eagles and osprey also took their toll, often using the hatchery and its vulnerable residents as a training ground for juvenile birds. Other poachers included raccoons, otters and the occasional human.

Also planned is a water-treatment operation, which is required to meet DEQ requirements.

"The water going out will be cleaner than the water coming in," Southwick said.

The stream below the hatchery, a catch-and-release fishery, will also be closed for stream repairs.

The Coursey Springs facility will be closed to the public during the project. The state's other four coldwater hatcheries, at Marion, Montebello, Paint Bank and Wytheville, will be open for public tours daily 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Boat rules, fees changed at Carvins Cove

The Western Virginia Water Authority will ease boat launching restrictions at Carvins Cove, opening the door to boaters who live outside the Roanoke area.

Officials have also simplified the rate structure, charging the same fees to all area users regardless of where they live.

The changes, which will take effect July 1, eliminate preferential treatment for residents of Roanoke, Salem and Vinton, and of Bedford, Botetourt and Roanoke counties.

Previously, residents of those localities paid fees of $1 and $15 for daily and annual use, respectively. Others paid double that.

Now, all users will pay $2 for daily passes or $20 for a year.

Boating permits will be $5 for a day and $75 for a year for non- motorized craft, and $9 per day or $90 annually for boats meeting the lake's 10 horsepower limit.

All boats must still meet the lake's inspection restrictions, which include not having been in another body of water for the previous 21 days.

Area users who already have boating or land use passes will be able to use those passes until they expire.

The changes could open the door for fisheries management help from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The agency traditionally stocked the reservoir but stopped helping when the previous restrictions were implemented.

For all intents and purposes, DGIF agency officials said, the differing rates privatized the lake. The department does not stock private waters with restricted access.

The changes stem from the new Carvins Cove Natural Reserve Natural Resource Management Plan, which the Western Virginia Water authority and Roanoke City Council approved earlier this year.

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