Kootenay Trout Hatchery celebrating 50 years
For 50 years the Kootenay Trout Hatchery has been raising fish, stocking lakes and introducing people to the pleasures of freshwater fishing.
Over the five decades the hatchery has expanded its mandate, taking on conservation initiatives and community outreach to encourage a love of fishing and an appreciation for our lakes and rivers. To celebrate this milestone the hatchery is hosting a family fun day on April 23, showcasing the hatchery’s history and offering family-friendly fishing activities.
“While the Kootenay Trout Hatchery has always been first and foremost a fish hatchery, we are very proud of how it has evolved to become a focal point for conservation and freshwater fishing in the community,” said hatchery manager Owen Schoenberger. “We welcome more visitors to the hatchery every year and it is exciting to help develop a new generation of responsible anglers and to educate people about conservation initiatives, such as our work with white sturgeon.”
The Kootenay Trout Hatchery was opened in 1966 as a provincial trout hatchery with a seven person staff consisting of a hatchery manager, assistant manager, three fish culturists, an office manager, and maintenance supervisor. A state of the art facility at the time, fish were reared in open raceways that would freeze over in the winter. Water was sourced from nearby Norbury Creek.
In 1983, the water source was switched to two wells, ensuring a more consistent water supply. Because it was a groundwater source, fish were not exposed to disease or pathogens sometimes present in the river water. In 1987 the raceways were covered and wells supplying water to the hatchery were increased to four. The raceways no longer froze over and winter working conditions became much more pleasant for staff.
In 1998, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho finalized an agreement with the province to establish a sturgeon facility at the Kootenay Trout Hatchery and the following year the facility began raising Kootenai sturgeon. The Freshwater Fisheries Society released their last Kootenai white sturgeon in 2015 as the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho are now administering this successful recovery program at their new hatchery in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho.
Ownership of the hatchery was transferred to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC in 2003, shortly after the Society was created. In the spring of that year the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon rearing program was transferred to the Kootenay Trout Hatchery where it is operated in conjunction with the Kootenay River Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery. These programs have supported habitat research, restocking and re-introduction efforts from the USA border to the Kinbasket Reservoir.
In 2007, the hatchery opened their onsite fishing pond. The pond was built in a large part from community donations and it continues to be a focal point in the community. In that first year just over 1,000 youth fished the pond in the Learn to Fish program. Last year more than 6,000 youth and their parents participated in a Learn to Fish program at the hatchery pond.
In 2015 a number of upgrades were undertaken to reduce energy usage and improve the hatchery’s operating efficiency. Circular ponds replaced the fish rearing raceways. Water usage is anticipated to drop from 2.5 billion litres to 0.5 billion litres per year, drawn from five groundwater wells.
The improved tank design constantly moves waste out of the system, reducing the time required to clean the tanks. With better access to feed throughout the tank, fish are better able to convert food to body mass, reducing variance in fish size. The result is more consistent, better conditioned, healthier fish released into rivers and lakes throughout the region.
The hatchery also expects to reduce electricity consumption by about 264,000 kilowatt hours per year, about 22% of overall usage, as a result of less water pumping and warming.
The Kootenay Hatchery annually raises 1.3 million kokanee, cutthroat trout, brook char and rainbow trout for the recreational fishery in addition to sturgeon. The fish are stocked in 150 lakes in the East and West Kootenay. Some fish are provided to the Clearwater and Summerland Trout Hatcheries for stocking interior and northern regions of the province. The Kootenay and Clearwater Trout Hatcheries are the only facilities that stock kokanee salmon in B.C.
The hatchery now employs an office manager, assistant manager, maintenance supervisor, hatchery manager, a sturgeon manager, three fish culturists, two seasonal fish culturists and six seasonal tour guides.
The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC’s Kootenay Trout Hatchery will be celebrating the hatchery’s 50th Anniversary with an Open House on April 23, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Everyone is invited to get to know the hatchery better with tours through the recently renovated hatchery, fish rearing and lake stocking discussions with a fish culturist and fish culture demonstrations.
Family activities include fishing, face painting and activities at the pond as well as birthday cake and goodie bags for the kids. The Bull River Rancher’s Association BBQ will have a food concession available.