The History of the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery Part 2—Stayin’ Alive

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To the new millennium and beyond, the Whiteshell Hatchery continues to produce and deliver hundreds of thousands of Trout and millions of Walleye fry to the various regions throughout Manitoba. All this under a steadily decreasing budget and ageing infrastructure. These challenges were severe, which included annual operating budget cuts that scraped to the bone. This resulted in smaller trout and distribution costs that had to be offset by other regions and user groups as well. But, they still produced, the old white distribution truck heading on down the highway.

THE TROUT – THE SOURCE
The Whiteshell Hatchery annually produces an average of 400,000 trout and hybrids for regional stocking requests. These come in variety of species and sizes. Species include Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Lake trout. Trout hybrids are Tiger (Brook x Brown), Splake (Lake x Brook) and even Spar (Brook x Arctic Char) periodically. Fingerlings are generally 5-6 cm in length and take 6 months to grow to that size. These are the least preferred size range for obvious reasons. Next are the 12 – 15 cm fish which are fall stocked at about 8 – 9 months old. We stock more this size than all the others. The largest and most preferred size are the 18+ cm which are spring stocked and about 1 ½ years old. Occasionally surplus and/or older brood stock are moved to supplement various lakes around the province.

The only brood stock kept in Hatchery in the last decade are Brown and Brook trout. The Whiteshell had their own Rainbow trout brood for decades, but purchasing and incubating fertilized eggs from a certified supplier made things logistically easier overall. This explains why anglers have not been seeing ‘kiped-out, hot-rodding’ male Rainbows for the last while. Fertilized eggs come in all female lots because suppliers want to protect their strain or brand.

Each Fisheries Region needs to supply the Hatchery with 3-year trout stocking projections by species, number and size. The Hatchery only has so much room for each life stage and size in their facility therefore this type of strategic long term planning is crucial.

WALLEYE AND THE WHITESHELL
Walleye fry production started in 1984. Fish Culture staff collect spawn from the Falcon Creek run. Most of the fry are stocked in lakes throughout the Eastern Region, with a small amount of marked fry going to the Western Region for stocking assessment needs. Falcon Creek utilization works out perfect on all levels. The spawning run is much larger than the habitat available. Ten percent of the fry produced at the hatchery are stocked back into Falcon Lake which ultimately results in a net benefit of Walleye to the system. Seven to eleven million walleye fry are produced annually at the Whiteshell Hatchery. ‘Walleye time’ is one of the busiest of the year. During the egg incubation phase, staff need to be available 24/7. Add ‘packaging’, OTC marking and distribution in addition to their regular duties, chaos can erupt in a heartbeat. Believe me, it is nuts at that time of year. But, they still produce.

CHALLENGES
It hasn’t been easy. About ten years ago high levels of mould and asbestos were detected in the main production building, a direct result of ignoring ageing infrastructure. This led to moving the ‘office’ into a small ATCO type trailer for six years at about $1300/month. Hatchery staff could not enter the production building without wearing respirators for protection. This kind of ‘forced’ government into at least ‘fixing’ the main building however the hatchery needed more than that. Just the fact that the main building would have to be gutted, this triggered a host of other repairs and equipment replacement all over the Hatchery site. This ‘problem’ triggered hesitation among the bean counters and politicians. There were some very, very serious discussions about ‘dumping’ the hatchery in one way or another. If it were not for a couple of forward thinking bureaucrats and board members of the Fisheries Enhancement Fund (FEF), there would be no Whiteshell Fish Hatchery.

Starting in 2013, all Hatchery operations including staff salaries would be funded by the FEF (now the Fisheries and Wildlife Enhancement Fund – FWEF), and in addition the Swan Creek Spawn Camp. This comes at a cost of $850,000 annually from the fund, 100% via angler licence revenues. Not a bad deal if you think about it. Consider this; a study commissioned by the RM of Rossburn to assess the economic impact of aerating stocked trout lakes showed for every dollar invested in these lakes, the area receives thirty-seven dollars in economic spinoffs. The first ever Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships (CNFFC) held in the Parkland generated a half million dollars in just five days of competition back in 2003. The CNFFC will be held for the third time in Manitoba’s Parkland this spring. Tip of the ice berg for sure. ALL SHINY AND NEW

There has been a rash of improvements to the infrastructure at the Whiteshell Hatchery since 2013. Besides the main production building being completely gutted, rebuilt and refit (offices and production room), a new geothermal heating system was installed, the capacity of the Walleye incubation building has been doubled and the rearing building has received some long overdue attention. Even a grand staffing plan was devised. But even with a shiny new hatchery, production capacity reportedly doubled and grins all around, decades of ignoring ageing infrastructure could not put Humpty Dumpty back together, just yet. There was still more renovations in store. Since the walleye building was not expanded to house the new Walleye batteries, production could not double even if it was requested. So, it was “business as usual in Kramerica”. The main water line needs a lot of work. The distribution truck and tanks are used up, tired and old. On and on. During my stint with Fisheries in the Eastern Region, three long time employees at the Whiteshell Hatchery retired. Over a hundred years of experience. To my knowledge, these positions have not been filled yet. Being short staffed in any operation that runs 24/7 can lead to stressed staff, reduced production and even safety issues. Recent activity on social media showed what can happen when critical staffing shortages at the hatchery are ignored by managers. Wet band-aids do not hold for very long. Not good.

KANSAS HAS A VISION
But you know what? I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I think all there needs to be is a will to do something right, do something sustainable and do it together. Sometimes you have to build from the bottom up and not from the top down. I know it takes time and yes patience really is a virtue, but its dump or get off the pot time man. And through it all, chances are you’ll see that beat up old white fish truck this spring, once the road restrictions are lifted of course, pounding down old 366, with the Hip blaring the way and the Koolatron turning lunch into supper, and a load of 10,000 bad to the bone 18+cm TL AF 2N Rainbow Trout, heading north to the Ducks, on a turn around. And the beat goes on.

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About Author

Ken Kansas

Ken has recently retired from a 30+ year career in fisheries research and management conducted all across Manitoba. From the Theliwaza and Lower Nelson Rivers, to Manitoba’s Parkland and Whiteshell areas, Ken has worked tirelessly in efforts to improve fish populations and recreational angling opportunities through science and common sense based realities. A rabid fisher himself, with a penchant for tossing flies at rather large salmonids, Ken hopes to share his knowledge with all Hooked Magazine readers through the unique combination of biologist and angler.

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