San Marcos fish hatchery coping with the drought


by ANDREW CHUNG / KVUE News and Photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndrewC_KVUE

Posted on June 17, 2013 at 7:51 AM

Updated Monday, Jun 17 at 8:17 AM

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Inside the hatching jars at the A. E. Wood State Fish Hatchery in San Marcos are millions of channel catfish eggs and hatchlings. 

You could call this a "fish incubator."

From egg to fish, this is the beginning of a journey that will take them to waterways around Texas.

"The catfish production is the part of the program that's the most concerning for us. A lot of people catch catfish. A lot of people like to take catfish home and eat 'em, and if that program isn't able to go on this year, there's certainly going to be a lot of people that are going to be impacted by it," said hatchery manager Robert Schmid.

Go here to see photos of the hatchery.

They grow Florida large mouth bass too, and once the fingerlings leave the incubation room, they are then transferred to "grow out" ponds outside the hatchery.

In those ponds, they will mature for about 30 days before being sent to lakes and rivers around the state.

In addition to channel catfish and Florida large mouth bass, the hatchery grows rainbow trout and koi carp.

The San Marcos River provides the water source for this fish hatchery. So with the drought ongoing, any rain this area can get is a blessing.

After using that water, the hatchery then returns it to the river. 

You can see why the employees monitor the drought like a hawk. 

A drop in river levels can ultimately force the hatchery to restrict their water usage. "We haven't hit the restriction yet. Right at the edge," said Schmid.

Mukhtar Farooqi works for the hatchery as a fisheries biologist and is the assistant district fishery supervisor for the San Marcos Inland Fisheries Management Office. He says the drought affects not only hatcheries but sport fishermen as well.

"You could lose connectivity between the river and the lake, and that will impact species which migrate between the two, especially during spawning runs like the white bass at (Lake) Buchanan," said Farooqi, adding, "We noticed a couple of years ago during the current drought, when it was at its worst, that fishing license sales actually dropped, because you lost habitat; you lost access."

While Farooqi says the drought has had a worse impact on other parts of the state compared to Central Texas, he said, "We definitely have to be mindful of the fact that we are at the mercy of water levels and it certainly impacts our job and what service we can provide."

The drought has forced the Dundee State Fish Hatchery, 23 miles west of Wichita Falls, to suspend its operations due to low water levels at Lake Kemp, which is that hatchery's water source.

Schmid says the recent rain in Central Texas is nice but he'd like to see more. "It is encouraging certainly and, you know, disheartening to see it. You look at the radar weather and you see it coming up and coming up and then somehow it's like it magically divides and then goes around our area."

Whether you're a fisherman or not, Schmid and his colleagues hope everyone realizes how precious water is when it comes to Texas' freshwater fish.