NH FISH AND GAME EMPLOYEES at the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery in New Durham pull brook trout to the edge of a circular outdoor tank with a seine net in preparation for loading the stocking truck. Shown are (l-r): Roger Elliott, Kevin Dale, Superintendent Tom Givetz, Mark Miller and Chad Elliott. Elissa Paquette. (click for larger version)
April 24, 2012NEW DURHAM — The Powder Mill Fish Hatchery in New Durham, one of six managed by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, is busier than usual these days. Superintendent Tom Givetz sends off three to four 2,000-pound truckloads of fish –brook, rainbow and brown trout and salmon – every day to lakes and streams throughout the area.
"Some streams and ponds get one to five shots a season," says Givetz, "others, like today's, are a one-shot deal." The biologists determine how many sets are sent into any
given water body, and that's determined by fishing pressure, the availability of natural food sources and temperature, he explains.
His crew raises thousands of fish throughout the year. 115,000 salmon are raised on site. Around 10,000 rainbows and 26,000 salmon go into Lake Winnipesaukee alone in a season.
One "class" goes out and the other remains to mature in the hatchery's outdoor concrete tanks visible in an open field alongside Powder Mill Road.
The water that sustains them (roughly 43 degrees) travels downhill along pipes set deep in Merrymeeting Lake across the way.
"Last year at this time, the lake was still frozen, " points out Givetz. "This year we're about a month ahead."
As one walks along, they see a building containing tiny, lively salmon fry residing in shiny blue round metal tanks and long, rectangular concrete tanks, where trout are roiling the water as they go after the food pellets an employee is casting out along the surface.
Beyond are numerous circular, concrete tanks; some now empty and others still occupied with thousands of fish swimming in their depths.
Two men each grab a section of a seine net and throw it out over one of the circular enclosures. White floats buoy the net's top edge as the body of the net sinks down under the water. They move toward one side in synch as others, holding on to opposite ends, at the other end of the circle, begin to close the net in on the fish and draw their wriggling, muscular bodies toward one side, within reach of long-handled nets.
Roger Eliot drives the hatchery truck alongside, opens a compartment and stands ready to receive the "brookies" from the full outstretched nets of the men below. Givetz, clipboard and pen in hand, records the weight of each load before it is handed off. When they reach 2,000 pounds, Eliot is ready to take off for parts known but not disclosed.
The fish leave for their brief journey into the wild, where they'll begin finding food on their own. The water in the fish compartments is aerated by electric pumps that circulate the water, and the person in charge can add oxygen, if need be.
"They're not fed for a couple days before hand," says Givetz, "so they don't get sick." The shock of being moved goes better on an empty stomach. "They don't handle it too well, if they've been fed," he says, adding, "Sometimes the fishermen will complain, 'You fed them,' when they have trouble catching them, but they're actually hungry."
Hungry or not, there's a brief adjustment when the fish first enter a new environment and they tend to "lay along the bottom when you first let them go…They know what to do though. It comes natural to them, " says Givetz. They get some opportunities while in captivity to leap after an unsuspecting flying insect. He's seen them in chase.
Givetz has been on the job for 26 years and looks forward to each day for, "you never know exactly what to expect." The hatchery is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and school tours, elementary through college, are part of the educational experience offered by appointment.
New Hampshire Fish and Game Department operations such as the hatcheries that support fishing throughout the state are funded entirely by the purchase of fishing licenses and private fundraising efforts.
For an unusual underwater glimpse of fish at the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery, YouTube videos uploaded by scubadubadog on Nov. 12. 2011, titled "An Inmate's Perspective," are available for viewing. Just Google Powder Mill Fish Hatchery to arrive at the link.
Those wiley "inmates" are heading out daily, ready to meet their match with area fishermen standing along a pond or river bank or out trolling on New Hampshire's waterways.