Renovation is underway for the only state-owned fish hatchery devoted to producing trout.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioners has partnered with trout fishermen to begin major work on the Jim Hinkle Spring River Fish Hatchery in Fulton County.
The hatchery was built in 1974 and was donated to the AGFC by the Kroger Company in 1985. It draws cold water from the Spring River and uses large metal silos placed into the ground as growing tanks for cold-water trout species.
Eggs, primarily supplied through federal trout hatcheries, are hatched and the fingerlings are placed into the tanks and cared for until they are about 18 months old.
AGFC Director Austin Booth said trout from the hatchery provide fishing opportunities for a much larger area than the Spring River.
“Fish from this hatchery not only go to 140 miles of trout tailwater,” Booth said. “They also go into 42 locations around the state for little boys and little girls to fish in ponds in their communities and catch beautiful trout.”
The hatchery once was able to supply up to half of the 2 million rainbow trout stocked annually in the state, with the remaining trout coming from the federal hatcheries. But after 46 years and two recent flood events, the hatchery has seen extensive wear.
Regular maintenance and a renovation of the dam that controls water going into the hatchery has kept much of the infrastructure operational, but many larger components, including the facility’s metal silos are in need of replacement. The wear on equipment has reduced the productivity of the hatchery to half of what it historically produced.
AGFC Assistant Hatchery Manager B.J. Vandiver said some of the metal silos had to be taken completely out of production because of safety concerns for hatchery staff.
“The metal has corroded over the years so much that we were seeing holes form in the sides of the tanks,” Vandiver said. “When we harvest trout, we have to climb down in the tanks, and you could see where some of the metal was beginning to buckle and groundwater from around the tank was seeping back in. We just had to take them offline.”
The renovation will replace the metal silos with round concrete tanks which should last much longer.
“We have concrete raceways here as well, and we originally wanted to just add more of those in place of the silos,” Vandiver said. ”After a trip to a Wyoming hatchery that used the round concrete tanks, we saw that it was a better design.”
Water supply and discharge systems also will be remodeled to use water more efficiently and promote a cleaner environment for the fish with less need for hand-cleaning. An ultraviolet treatment system will enhance the hatchery’s ability to combat waterborne pathogens, such as infectious pancreatic necrosis, which was detected at the hatchery five years ago.
Once complete, the hatchery should be able to regain its former production levels of 1 million trout per year.
With the support of anglers, guides and local stakeholders, the AGFC made a small increase in the price of trout stamps in 2019. That increase initially generated an additional $2.06 million, almost one-third of the renovation’s projected cost.
The additional funds needed for the projected $6.7 project were approved by the commission in July and were drawn from the agency’s Stability and Enhancement Fund.