COVID-19 outbreak impacts trout stocking schedule

April 1 is opening day of trout season and staff at the Randolph Fish Hatchery has been out stocking area lakes and streams since March 18. They plan to finish earlier than usual this year because, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the state DEC has given them a directive to empty the hatchery as soon as possible. Shown is fish culturist Barry Hohmann displaying some netted yearlings.

RANDOLPH — Trout fishing season officially kicks off April 1 and, thanks to the staff at the Randolph Fish Hatchery, area streams and lakes will be teeming with trout on opening day.

However, this year’s stocking process has been expedited because the fish culturists have been given a directive from Albany to empty the hatchery as soon as possible.

Richard Borner, manager and fish culturist 3 at the Randolph hatchery, said this order came from Steve Hurst, chief of the Bureau of Fisheries for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“There will be some stocking done in April, but we have been directed to move as many fish as possible and empty the hatchery as soon as possible,” he said. “They want us to empty the hatchery before any staff get sick and they have to shut the hatchery down, so the stocking is going at a fast and furious pace.”

The Randolph hatchery keeps a healthy population of brook, brown and rainbow trout well-stocked in the streams and lakes of Allegany State Park, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Chautauqua and Wyoming counties.

Including the fish they transfer to other hatcheries for stocking, the facility raises and handles about 250,000 eight-inch fish that get stocked into local waterways and all around Western New York, as well as Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes Region, and as far away as Lake Ontario.

Borner and his staff began stocking trout March 18 in the waters of Allegany and Wyoming counties. They have been working their way through the rest of the counties and expect to be finished by the end of April, if not sooner. Borner said the schedule is being changed daily with as many streams and lakes being done as possible.

“Streams and lakes that sometimes get three stockings are being combined into one super stocking,” he explained. “We may be finished with all stocking and transfers by the end of April. It all depends on staff health and equipment.”

Ordinarily, a hatchery truck laden with trout meets volunteers who walk buckets of fish up and down the streams where they are carefully released, but not this year. Borner said volunteers are not allowed to help stock trout at this time because of the coronavirus outbreak. He said they are trying to help protect the health and safety of both hatchery employees and the public.

Borner said his staff at the Randolph hatchery takes great pride in the fish they raise for the sportsmen and women of New York state to enjoy.

ACCORDING TO Borner, fish production was great this year. With a mild winter, the trout grew well and are in great shape. He said they wintered around 165,000 brown trout, 8 to 9-inches, and 50,000 brook trout, also 8 to 9-inches.

In regards to fish health, he said they have not had any new diseases at the hatchery. However, the numbers of fish being stocked and species has changed dramatically, this year, due to the discovery of Zebra Mussels at the Rome hatchery.

“We’re stocking a lot more rainbows locally and less brook trout. Most of our browns are being transferred to Rome for stocking up there,” he said. “Those numbers are around the same, but they are being moved and transferred to different hatcheries where they are needed.”

Each fall, hatchery fish culturists strip, fertilize and incubate roughly 5.3 million eyed-eggs. Randolph keeps a portion and the rest are sent to other hatcheries in the state. The trout are raised in indoor culture tanks, called the nursery and, after about three months of age, they are transferred to harvest ponds until they reach the required size for release.

Borner said when the COVID-19 epidemic subsides, operations will hopefully resume as normal. They expect to have a normal egg take in September, with a release of all three trout species of the spent broodstock (fish that have spawned) into area streams in late October.

One of 12 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation fish hatcheries, the Randolph Fish Hatchery has both broodstock and production fish (yearlings) to be stocked out. According to the DEC, the primary broodstock facility handles five-six million brook, brown and rainbow trout eggs each year. Annual production totals almost 100,000 pounds of fish.

Anglers can look forward to a balmy day in the 50s if the extended weather forecast for April 1 stays true. This is great news for fishermen who, like everyone else, have been housebound the last couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s mandate, people are reminded to maintain a 6-foot distance from others in public.

The Randolph Fish Hatchery, located at 10943 Hatchery Road in Randolph, is currently closed to the public until further notice. Borner said he fully expects the hatchery to reopen once the current situation improves. To find out more, call the hatchery at 358-4755. For more information about fish stocking, call the Randolph Stocking Hotline at 358-2050, or visit online at dec.ny.gov.

(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at salpressdeb@gmail.com)