APPLE GROVE — Located beside the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam below Gallipolis Ferry is the Apple Grove Fish Hatchery — and potentially millions of fish.
The hatchery, owned by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR), was built in 2000, according to Hatchery Manager Ryan Bosserman. The first fish eggs were hatched in the spring of 2001.
Currently, walleye, bass, catfish, musky, sauger, and other requested varieties and species are raised at the warm-water fish hatchery.
“We raise fish for stocking and reintroduction,” Bosserman said. “The fish are for use all around West Virginia for public use. Everything we raise here will eventually go out for the fishermen.”
Bosserman said the hatchery is used as a management tool to increase the native fish population.
The process begins in March when the water warms up. Bosserman and his team go in the Ohio River, Kanawha River and lakes throughout the state to collect male and female fish. In 2019, the group logged 28 hours on the water collecting fish, said Bosserman.
The pairs of fish are brought back to the Apple Grove Fish Hatchery to beginning the spawning period — where the female fish broadcast their eggs for the male to fertilize. Bosserman said they take DNA samples from the fins to be analyzed. The tests look to see if the fish are native or if they belong to the Great Lake strains. Bosserman said they focus on the native strains that inhabited the rivers and lakes historically.
In 2019, the hatchery took 3.2 million eggs.
“The walleye eggs run about 1,000-1,600 eggs per ounce,” Bosserman said. “From some of these fish, we’ll get 60-70 ounces of eggs from one. The majority of it is about 30 ounces. So we’re pushing 40,000 eggs from one fish.”
The eggs do not always have a great chance of life.
“We get about 40-75 percent fertilization rate,” Bosserman said. He added that the hatched eggs have about a 10 percent chance of survival.
“You hope for 10-20 percent recruitment,” Bosserman said. “So 10-20 percent of the fish survive to a bigger size.”
Bosserman said that in the wild, the hatched eggs have a two percent chance of survival.
Bosserman said it only takes the eggs one to two weeks to hatch and some of the smaller fish are in the hatchery’s outdoor ponds in 30 days. By fall, some species are being stocked into rivers, ponds and lakes throughout the state. Bosserman said sometimes he will trade fish with other states if there is a need.
The catfish typically take a much longer time to grow large enough to be released. At the hatchery now, Bosserman has catfish that were hatched in 2018.
“Krodel Lake, they get a good dose of (catfish), but there’s a lot of large-mouth bass in there,” Booserman said. “If we stock four-to-six-inch channel catfish in there, there’s just feeding the bass. If you put a 12-inch one in there, not a whole lot can eat it.”
The fries, or baby fish, are kept in troughs inside the facility before being relocated to the outdoor ponds. The Apple Grove Hatchery has 34 pounds, totaling 43 acres of water.
There are currently “age one” catfish in some of the ponds. Age one refers to the fish being one year old — Bosserman said all fish are given the birthday of Jan. 1. So these fish were hatched in the spring 2019.
Warm-water fish grow if the water is above 50 degrees, according to Bosserman. The growing season for them is typically seven to eight months, or March through October.
Bosserman was scheduled to take some of the age one catfish he had in the facility, which were about four to five inches long, to New Haven Elementary on Friday. The school has an aquarium they use to grow some of the fish. Bosserman said he does some educational things, such as this, for students throughout the state.
“We usually have plenty of catfish, so we give them to a few schools,” Bosserman said. “I think last year I gave them to five or six schools.”
The 2020 season will begin in March when Bosserman and other WVDNR employees start collecting the mature fish to begin spawning.
Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.