“Coming up with names for all these fish would be a problem,” said James Civiello, manager of Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery in Branson.
Civiello was referring to the 1.4 million 2- to 11-inch trout currently in residence at the hatchery. He said Shepherd of the Hills produces the sleek, silver fish, as if from a cookie cutter stamp, month after month, year after year.
Shepherd of the Hills is one of 10 fish-rearing facilities in Missouri’s fish hatchery system. Conservation Department hatcheries raise and release fish by the millions, and not just trout. The state hatcheries’ product line ranges from channel catfish to paddlefish, from Topeka shiners to muskies.
It’s true that fish generally can reproduce on their own. Female fish lay eggs by the thousands, but they usually need that many. It’s a fish-eat-fish world underwater, and only a tiny fraction of young fish survive.
In most state lakes and streams, that tiny fraction is enough to ensure future generations of fish for anglers to catch. However, there are special situations where waters or fish or anglers need a boost from hatcheries.
Trout are a good example. Although we have rivers cool enough to support trout, only a few state streams have self-sustaining populations of rainbow trout. Brown trout are unable to reproduce here. Much of the great trout fishing we have in Missouri and millions of the dollars of economic activity generated by trout fishing annually depend on Conservation Department hatcheries.
The department maintains five cold-water hatcheries to keep anglers supplied with trout. Four of the hatcheries are at trout parks. The fifth, and largest, cold-water hatchery is located on the south edge of Branson, next to the upper portion of Lake Taneycomo.
The cold-water hatcheries stock about 1.5 million trout into Missouri waters each year. Most of those fish are of catchable size—at least 10 inches long.
Raising trout to that size is a monumental job. The trout start out as tiny eggs taken in the spring or fall from brood stock at the hatchery. After the eggs hatch, the young fish have to be fed up to 12 times a day. During the 15 to 18 months before they are released, the trout need to be kept well-oxygenated, well-fed and disease-free.
Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery accomplishes this task with the help of eight full-time employees. The hatchery workers monitor the automatic systems that track temperatures and oxygen levels, feed and grade the trout,