It’s a long time coming, but the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officially began renovating the Spring River State Trout Hatchery at Mammoth Spring on Thursday.
The hatchery, acquired from Kroger Corp. in 1985, is a staple of the commission’s popular trout fishing program, which generates millions of dollars in economic activity each year.
Anglers come from all over the world for the chance to catch a world record brown trout on the White River, the downstream of Norfork Lake and the downstream of Greers Ferry on the Little Red River. The Spring River also supports year round trout fishing.
There are also cold weather trout fisheries on the Little Missouri River and in the Ouachita River downstream of Ouachita, Hamilton, and Catherine Lakes. The Game and Fish Commission even stores rainbow trout in portions of Rock Creek that cross Little Rock.
Most of the stocked trout in the White, North Fork and Little Red rivers come from federal trout hatcheries that have been established to mitigate the loss of warm water fisheries during the construction of the Beaver, Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Norfork dams. and Greers Ferry.
At full capacity, the Spring River State Trout Hatchery is also a powerful contributor to the system, but it has been hampered since 2015, when infectious pancreatic necrosis broke out among the trout in the hatchery. In 2017, a major flood damaged the archaic facility, permanently reducing it to around 50% of its capacity.
The commission approved a renovation in 2017 and approved the design in 2021. The commission held an official groundbreaking ceremony at the hatchery on Thursday. The old facility will be demolished and the new facility will be completed in about 400 days, said Ben Batten, chief fisheries officer for the Game and Fish Commission.
âHe was attacked in three or four different ways,â Batten said. “The tanks are stainless steel. They should be a quarter of an inch thick, but they’re actually an eighth to a tenth of an inch. They were pitted and rusted, and they weren’t safe.”
Infectious pancreatic necrosis was a major threat that prevented the commission from repopulating Spring River Hatchery trout in the year-round trout fishery. It is devastating for trout fry and fry under 4 to 5 inches.
âEverything is fine now, but it has disrupted our ability to raise fish in the hatchery,â Batten said. âThere are ways to do biosecurity to keep it going, but once you test positive you have to test every six months for two years in a row. We’ve come close, but the bottom line is that we don’t want to get sick of it. There is a self-sustaining brown trout fishery on Greers Ferry. If it did get there it could have devastating effects. Since 2016, we have not been able to stock any trout from Spring River to Greers Ferry or in the Spring River above the hatchery. “
Anglers have noticed the reduction in available fish, Batten said, and they have expressed their displeasure with the surveys of anglers.
The rebuilt hatchery will feature tanks 7 feet high instead of the previous 13 feet high. Smaller tanks will make it easier for trout to get food, which will help them grow faster by reducing calorie expenditure while foraging, Batten said. Ultraviolet light generators will kill waterborne pathogens.
The renovated hatchery will also allow the board to propagate different species of trout for the enjoyment of fishermen, such as tiger trout and cutthroat trout. In some quarters, the Bonneville strain cutthroat rivals the much-vaunted brown trout in popularity.
The project will cost approximately $ 6.7 million. Income from resident and non-resident trout licenses will cover a large portion of the costs. Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Act matching grants will also help cover costs.
âIn 2019, the commission increased the resident trout license from $ 5 to $ 10 and the non-resident trout license from $ 12 to $ 20,â Batten said. “At that time, he [trout permits]generated $ 2.06 million. “
Batten said trout fishing directly generates around $ 180 million per year, but its value is much higher.
âIt’s, like, the base number,â Batten said. âThere are all kinds of ripple effects that you get from the number of times that dollar is spent on fishing guide fees, boat rentals, lodging, bait, fuel and the like.
“It’s a huge driver. In modern times, it’s by far the biggest project in the fishery. In economic terms, it’s a good investment.”