Dirty Jobs: Hatchery Edition

Last week some of our SOLE team members visited the Pueblo Hatchery and were able to experience a day in the life of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Fish Hatchery Technician! Our team was not afraid to get their hands dirty and the hard-working hatchery staff was kind enough to show us the ropes.

The Pueblo Hatchery is the only Colorado facility that raises both cold-water fish species (like trout) and warm-water fish species (like catfish and largemouth bass). It has 32 ponds that house literally millions of fish! While visiting, our SOLE staff helped transfer adult fish (called brooders) and their fish babies (called fry) to new ponds where they would grow until they were large enough to be stocked into a river or lake.

Have you always wanted to know how to transfer fish between hatchery ponds?? Me too! Here’s how it's done...

How to Transport Brooders:

Step 1: Drain most of the water from the pond so that all of the fish are left in one section and can be easily accessed.

Step 2: Using screens, herd all of the fish into one section of the pond. Make sure you’ve got your cool waders on! (See picture below)

Step 3: As one technician nets the fish, form an assembly line to quickly deliver the fish to the storage tanks of the truck.

Step 4: Pass the net full of fish from one person to another until it reaches the truck.

Step 5: Empty net into the fish holding tanks on the truck

Step 6: Keep an eye out for fish that try to make a hasty escape from the net! The babies (called fry) will need to be returned to the pond. Adults will need to be carried to the truck.

Step 7: Once the fish have been delivered to the truck tanks, pass the net back to the person who is in the pond so they can net more fish.

Step 8: Repeat until all fish have successfully been transferred to the truck’s tanks.

Step 9: Drive truck to the new pond and open the valves of the truck to release fish into the pond.

Step 10: Welcome fish to their new home and give yourself a high-five!

The SOLE staff and Pueblo Hatchery staff successfully transferred all of the adult fish to the new pond… but our job wasn’t over yet! What was left in the pond were all the baby fish (the fry!) that were going to live at the hatchery over the winter. They were too young to be stocked into a river or lake this fall so they would keep the hatchery technicians company until they reached adulthood next spring. The SOLE crew was asked to help count how many fry were left in the pond. At first, counting every fish left in the pond seemed impossible! But thankfully the hatchery technicians came to the rescue. Here’s what they taught us about how to count all the fish in a pond…

How to Count Fry (Baby Fish!):

  • First, collect one pound of fish from the pond.

  • Then, count how many fish are in your one-pound sample.

  • Weigh each bucket of fish collected from the pond and find the total number of pounds of fish in the pond.

The answer will be an estimate of the number of fish in the pond! See, math is always useful!

Can you guess how many baby fish were living in just one of the hatchery’s ponds? Almost 47,000!!

During their visit, the SOLE staff quickly learned that working at a fish hatchery is hard! As one hatchery manager said, raising fish in a hatchery is “both a science and an art”. Despite this year's record-setting heat and the ongoing drought, the crew has had a successful season and raised millions of fish for Colorado's rivers and lakes.

We are so grateful for the talented people that work at our fisheries and support the ecosystems of our state. Thanks to them, Colorado’s fish populations are thriving and we are able to enjoy the outdoors while catching some pretty cool fish!

Many thanks to the staff of Pueblo Fish Hatchery for teaching us all about raising fish in a hatchery. At the end of the day, the SOLE Staff was muddy and covered in that wonderful pond-water smell but smiling under their masks regardless!

Do you want to visit a CPW Fish Hatchery like we did? You can! All 19 of CPW's hatcheries are open to the public. Check out the hatchery page on CPW's website to find one near you.

Also click the image below for behind-the-scenes footage of CPW staff stocking cutthroat trout from an airplane!

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