July 22, 2008

Renovations to Hatchery Have Begun


Tuesday's meeting of the board of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries produced the usual slate of regulations and recommendations, but the big news out of the department in recent weeks was the start of renovations at the Coursey Springs trout hatchery in Bath County.

The facility, which is more than 40 years old, was the largest in the state, accounting for 30 percent of the 1.2 million trout stocked annually by the DGIF. The new state-of-the-art fish cultural station will cost an estimated $12 million and is scheduled to be completed in December 2009. About $9 million will come from fishing license sales. The rest will be drawn from federal aid money.

Ron Southwick, DGIF assistant director of fisheries, said the other trout hatcheries will operate at full capacity while Coursey Springs is offline, but that the number of trout stocked will be down somewhat.

"Right now, we're producing everything we possibly can," he said. "What [anglers] are going to see is -- of course, there are going to be less fish -- but what we've done is to reduce the number of stockings but not the number of fish per stocking. So anglers should have the same experience as from past stockings."

Currently, designated trout waters are stocked from three to eight times annually depending on their classification. While the hatchery is undergoing renovation, the department will reduce the number of stockings for each category. Category A waters will get six stockings from October to May, Category B waters will go from five to four, and Category C, delayed harvest, and urban waters will get two stockings annually.

When Coursey Springs is up and running again, not only will the fisheries division have the ability to raise more fish, but it will consistently produce bigger trout.

"What we'll probably do is take some of the load off the other hatcheries so their fish can be larger," Southwick said. "Right now, we stock an average fish of about 9-10 inches. We hope to go to 11- 12 inches."

That's welcome news for trout fishermen throughout the state. They'll just have to wait a while to reap the rewards.

Other DGIF business

At Tuesday's meeting, the DGIF board was briefed and voted on a number of issues:

-- At the proposal stage were recommendations governing the operation of commercial parasailing businesses. The common sense proposals offered guidelines on everything from the weather and water conditions under which businesses can take people out on the water to the towline length of the parasails themselves.

-- Wildlife Division Director Bob Ellis presented to the board the draft of the Northern Bobwhite Quail Action Plan. It offered numerous specifics on how the department can fulfill the stated mission of placing "the highest priority on the restoration of wild quail populations and promote the sport of bobwhite quail hunting."

Quail harvests have declined precipitously in the state in recent years. In 1970, 1.5 million birds were taken by hunters. That number was down to 68,647 in 2006. As those harvests have declined, the number of quail hunters in the field has fallen drastically.

The action plan that Ellis laid out calls for large-scale habitat restoration with the goal of returning population levels to those found in 1980 (87,277 coveys) within 10 years.

Ideas such as setting up habitat management demonstration areas and educating landowners about how they can help are part of the plan, which Ellis estimated will cost almost $9 million for the next five years.

Board members, mentioning failed quail restoration plans in the past, seemed to think funding will be the key to the plan's success.

"A great plan with no funding gets us nowhere," said board chairman C.T. Hill.

-- The board's final act of business was to approve the department's season and bag-limit recommendations for webless migratory gamebirds, September Canada goose and September teal seasons. Those can be found at the DGIF Web site: www.dgif.state.va.us.

-- Contact Andy Thompson at (804) 649-6579 or [email protected]



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