2008 rains affect 2009 Missouri trout stocking

JEFFERSON CITY-The effects of last year's record rainfall continue to be felt a year later, with an announcement that the Missouri Department of Conservation will reduce trout stocking.

2008 was the wettest year in Missouri history, with nearly 6 feet of precipitation falling during the year in some areas and more than 12 inches of rain falling in less than 24 hours in others. Conservation Department Hatchery Systems Manager James Civiello said these torrential rains affected trout hatchery operations in several ways.

The most significant impact came from the forced release of massive amounts of water from Table Rock Dam in Taney County. Prior to 2008, the most rapid release ever witnessed there was 31,000 cubic feet per second. Last year, the dam let as much as 47,500 cfs pass through turbines and flood gates.

"Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery sits right below Table Rock Dam," said Civiello. "The enormous volume of water pouring into Table Rock Lake forced the Corps of Engineers into record releases in June, and that created less-than-ideal water conditions for trout in our facility."

Civiello said the temperature of water flowing from Table Rock Lake through the hatchery reached 65 degrees at times. This is too warm to spawn trout eggs and keep hatched fish healthy. Water quality became an issue, too. As a result, the hatchery lost more than 30,000 pounds of fish to disease and parasites, compared to the normal annual loss of approximately 7,000 pounds. Most of these were 3- to 6-inch fish that otherwise would have gone to other hatcheries.

In most years, Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery produces approximately 1.3 million trout for stocking and smaller fish for transfer to other hatcheries, where they are reared to stocking size. Last year the number fell to 1.1 million.

Meanwhile, other hatcheries were experiencing rain-related problems, too. Bennett Spring Hatchery near Lebanon and Maramec Spring Hatchery near St. James both lost fish to floods that compromised water quality and washed fish out of rearing areas.

To compensate for losses, hatchery managers "pushed" small fish, feeding them more to hurry their growth to the average stocking size of 12 inches. While this helped keep last year's stocking near target levels, it amounted to borrowing fish from 2009. The hatchery system no longer has enough fish in the pipeline to keep up with this year's stocking goals.

Consequently, the Conservation Department plans to reduce stocking at Missouri's four trout parks and most other waters by 10 percent. This includes trout management areas and Lake Taneycomo. Statewide, the cutbacks will result in stocking 180,000 fewer trout this year than expected.

"We stuck with the traditional stocking level for opening day at the trout parks," said Civiello. "Since then, however, we have been stocking about two fish per anticipated angler instead of the usual 2.25 per angler. We should be able to sustain that level of stocking 12-inch fish for the rest of the year."

One exception to the reduction is the trout stocking program at Fort Leonard Wood. Another is the winter trout fishing program at urban lakes, for which the Conservation Department buys fish from other hatcheries.

Civiello said he hopes to return to normal stocking levels in 2010. He said the agency will continue to monitor hatchery inventories, trout tag sales and other factors and make adjustments to minimize the effect on stocking.