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Ted Waddell | Democrat

TIM ANSTEY, FC1, gets ready to dump a net full of trout into a special tank so Steve Covert, FC4, (in the background) can measure how many fish there are to a pound before loading them into a stocking truck.

In DeBruce, they wrangle fish

By Ted Waddell
DEBRUCE — May 23, 2008 — Something’s fishy in the Catskills.
First started as a public hatchery in 1948, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Catskill Fish Hatchery now produces more than 800,000 fingerlings (young fish 3-5 inches long) and 350,000 yearlings each year.
According to Scott Covert, Fish Culturist 4 (FC4), the local hatchery manager, the Catskill Fish Hatchery produces approximately one million pounds of fish annually, after 850,000-900,000 brown trout eggs develop to the point where they are classified “eye-up”, the stage where the eye is visible.
A large portion of brown trout eggs are transferred to the facility from other hatcheries across the state.
Groups of up to 1.3 million eggs are wrapped in wet cheese cloth, placed in special incubation trays that simulate the natural conditions of sand or gravel stream beds, and moisturized by dripping ice.
The DeBruce hatchery covers the state’s largest distribution area, and stocks 12 counties in southeastern NYS: Sullivan, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, Delaware, Green, Rockland, Ulster and Schoharie.
Each year, the NYS DEC releases over one million pounds of fish into more than 1,200 public streams, rivers, lakes and ponds across the state.
The fish are stocked for two primary purposes: restoring native species to waters they once occupied, and to enhance recreational fishing.
As a coldwater fish hatchery, Catskill Fish Hatchery raises brown trout, raising almost half of the brown trout stocked in the state.
During stocking season, other species may be imported into special isolation tanks while they are in transit from their ‘home hatchery’ to points of release.
There are nine coldwater hatcheries in NYS raising brook trout, brown trout, rainbows trout, steelheads, lake trout, splake, landlocked salmon, Coho salmon and Chinook salmon.
Three coolwater hatcheries specialize in walleye, muskellunge and tiger muskellunge.
The Catskill Fish Hatchery provides fish to the upper Delaware River watershed (east and west branches of the Delaware, and the Cannonsville and Pepacton reservoirs), all of the NYC reservoirs east and west of the Hudson River, and the waters of Long Island.
Catskill Hatchery personnel (called fish culturists) travel thousands of miles delivering fish to their designated stocking sites, including more than 400 public waterways such as the famed trout streams of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc.
Only a handful of local fish culturists work at the Catskill Hatchery: Scott Covert (FC4), John Anderson (FC3), Joe Gennarino (FC2) and a trio of FC1’s (Tim Anstey, Jim Judson and Steve Galbreth).
“The fisheries management people figure out what goes where and in what percentage, and we’re the implementation part of the program,” said Covert. “We’re the doers.”
The fish biologists identify how many miles of a stream have spawning habitats, sand and rock zones where female fish create depressions in the gravel and their eggs are fertilized with milt (sperm).
Covert said that after the brown trout eggs reach the stage where the eye is visible, “we purposely rough ’em up to kill off any weak one.”
“It’s called ‘shocking’ because we want healthy fish,” he said. “We put out quality fish.”
“One thing that p—s me off is a lot of people don’t think you have a quality fish unless it’s two feet long, but you can have a quality fish that’s two inches long… good color, strong fins and a good eater.”
The local hatchery maintains a broodstock population of 1,800 brown trout that range in length from 16 to 24 inches.
These fish are in a covered pond in the upper end of the hatchery, and live in an altered length of day so they produce eggs and sperm a couple of months earlier than they would in the wild, a process of induced spawning known a “light control.”
Small fish are loaded into special stocking trucks equipped with oxygenation tanks by hand using scap nets, while larger fish are normally loaded by using a device known as a “fish pump.”
“Before we ship the fish, we starve ’em, because we don’t want them c—n’ up the tanks,” said Covert. “It’s like going on a trip. You don’t want to drink a ton of coffee and then have to stop all the time.”
The Catskill Fish Hatchery is part of the state’s “Trout in the Classroom Program,” and if visiting school groups are lucky, they might get to see as many as seven eagles sitting up in trees bordering troughs and raceways hoping for a free meal.
“Most of them can’t quite the hang of swooping down into the ponds, so they walk up and down,” said Covert.
Also on the list of wildlife looking for a trout handout are mink, Great Blue Herons, kingfishers, raccoons and the rare otter.
“The herons are our ‘public enemy number one,’” said Covert, so we try to keep them out of the ponds with orange plastic snow fencing.”

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