WV Wildlife: Selecting Trout for Spawning

The famed Golden Rainbow Trout is a West Virginia thing! This slight genetic variation was discovered at the Petersburg Fish Hatchery in the 1950's--and propagated ever since! (WCHS/WVAH)

At the Petersburg trout hatchery in Grant County, the work never stops.

Raising rainbow and golden rainbow trout--which were actually discovered at this hatchery--is just like running a farm.

John Harper, a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, says the work here helps anglers all across the Mountain State.

“You're not just supplying for us, you're supplying for the state of West Virginia”, said Harper.

Recently, it was time to herd the fish in--thousands of them--and decide which ones are most fit to spawn, or reproduce, soon.

It may be cliché, but it’s certainly true—it’s a true circle of life at the Petersburg fish hatchery. The fish here are essentially immortal, as their genes will continue to be recycled through and through in the coming years,

Before choosing fish to spawn for next year, fisheries biologists first want to make sure that the trout have favorable physical traits; that way, the biggest, healthiest and most colorful fish can reach our lakes and streams once it’s time to stock.

It’s a tedious process—as there are thousands of fish to sort through—but Jim Hedrick, Hatchery Program Manager with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, says it’s well worth it.

"What we're doing is we're checking all the fish and trying to make sure that they are growing well and making sure they all have good color, making sure all their fins are good, they don't have any other deformities--and then we'll save those next year, and those will be the fish that we'll turn to broodstock for future generations", said Hedrick.

That’s very important, too, because a few of these fish--just due to the nature of genetics sometimes--don't develop properly. Hedrick explained with a particular golden rainbow trout.

“Here's an example of something we would not want. You see an incomplete gill shield on this guy, so we would not want to reproduce that fish and pass any of those characteristics on to the next generation. And you can see, the fish is also kind of short--like he might have a little bit of scoliosis as well, so we'll just go ahead and let him grow and we'll stock him out in the spring like we do the other fish", said Hedrick.

This selective breeding--from egg to broodstock--takes about 3 years. It's hard work that requires daily oversight, but our DNR biologists take great pride in stocking these beautiful fish.

"This is essential to angling and to actually stocking nice fish throughout our state for the angler. They could easily end up in Logan, McDowell county--anywhere, to Hancock county as well", said Hedrick.

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