After a four-year bureaucratic stoppage, rainbow trout are again being raised at the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery, and the first of those trout were stocked on the Colorado River Jan. 12. After two major trout die-offs at the hatchery in 2013, plants ended and trout production ceased when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it couldn’t afford repairs to the hatchery to continue to raise and plant trout.
The die-offs in 2013 occurred because floating aquatic vegetation clogged the water intake from the Colorado River and hatchery staff didn’t notice the problem. The repairs, completed this past August, consisted of new water conveyance system. It collects water from the surface, where the plant materials are less prevalent, and it is cleaned daily by hatchery staff. The former system pulled water from the bottom of the river where plant matter collected.
It took three years of political wrangling to get the hatchery back into trout production. The hatchery released 2,500 pounds of rainbows below Davis Dam in the Davis Camp and Bullhead City Park stretches of the river on Jan. 12. This stretch of river will get another plant in January. It will also be planted three times in February, four times in March, and once in April, for a total plant of 25,000 pounds of rainbows.
The Willow Beach stretch of the Colorado River downstream of the hatchery will also be planted with 1,000 pounds of rainbows every Friday starting Feb. 3. This weekly plant will continue year around.
These first batches of rainbow trout stocked came from the Arizona Game and Fish Department as fingerlings, being raised to catchable size at Willow Beach. The hatchery has also started raising rainbow trout from the egg stage again. In December of 2016, more than 110,000 rainbow trout eggs arrived from Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Montana. Those eggs have since hatched and will be catchable size later this year.
The ironic part of the closure was this hatchery was built in 1959 with the sole purpose of supplying the Colorado River with rainbow trout, and the tax dollars generated by the economic activity around the plants made it revenue neutral for the federal government. Yet, the USFWS wanted to convert it entirely to the production of endangered native Colorado fishes.
(Arizona Game and Fish Department photo)