Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Hatchery accident will hit Erie, Ontario lakers

By Bill Hilts, Jr. Contributing Writer

Warren, Pa. – Federal lake trout stocking efforts suffered
another serious setback in late April when nearly half of the
600,000 lake trout being raised died as a result of power loss to
the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren.

The fish lost were seven-inch yearlings slated to be stocked in
lakes Erie and Ontario this month – fish earmarked for both New
York and Pennsylvania.

“While losing that many fish is certainly a very serious matter
and a tragedy for this year’s stocking program, the good news is
that the hatchery lost very few fingerlings being raised for 2006,
as well as the brood stock for this hatchery,” said Kofi
Fynn-Aikins, director of the Lower Great Lakes Office for the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service and the person who oversees the
Allegheny facility. The Lower Great Lakes Office is located in
Amherst, N.Y., just outside Buffalo.

Earlier this year, the state’s Department of Environmental
Conservation announced at the State of the Lake meetings for Lake
Ontario that the Allegheny hatchery had suffered a disease problem
that resulted in fewer fish being raised. Originally, Lake Erie was
scheduled to receive 120,000 lake trout; Lake Ontario was in line
to receive 500,000 yearlings. It was determined that New York would
instead receive 509,000 fish the Allegheny hatchery, divided up
between the two Great Lakes.

“While we still don’t know the total inventory of the fish lost
in the hatchery, we’ll be looking at roughly 52,000 Klondike strain
lake trout for Lake Erie and somewhere in the neighborhood of
200,000 Seneca and Superior strain lake trout for Lake Ontario,”
said Bill Culligan, Great Lakes Section Supervisor for DEC.

Because of the reduced numbers, DEC is recommending that the
federal stocking of these fish occur in one location to improve
survival rates. The two locations being discussed were the Eastern
Basin of Lake Ontario off Stony Point or off Olcott in the Western
Basin of the lake.

“Success goes down for fish survival when they stock fewer
numbers at a site,” said Culligan. “Our first choice is to barge
stock these fish off Stony Point. However, there’s been some
administrative problems with the federal aid grants and the
contract for barge stocking has not yet been settled.”

In the meantime, the state had 10 days to make a decision on
what to do and where to stock. If the barge contract issue wasn’t
resolved, DEC opted to shore stock off Olcott where they’ve had
good survival rates in the past.

Bob Songin of Rochester, acting president of the Lake Ontario
Sportfishing Stakeholders Committee, polled many of their members
and the Western Basin people voted in full support to stock all
available lake trout off Stony Point. “We enjoy a different type of
fishery here that’s not dependent upon trout,” said Songin, captain
of the Reel Excitement charter. “They could use it a bit more down
east than we could and almost everyone I spoke with agreed to let
them stock all the fish from barges off Stony Point.”

The first step that contributed to a chain reaction of mishaps
at the Allegheny hatchery was the local power company scheduling a
power outage to fix a relatively minor problem in mid-April. The
date was set for April 26 and backup generators were tested on
April 21. Everything worked fine and they went forward with the
power cutoff at 9:30 a.m. on April 26.

All the power company trucks left around 2:40 p.m. but they
still did not have normal power restored to the hatchery. At 4:15
p.m. the LCD display reported that normal power was restored,
officials said. The generator continued to run as part of standard
protocol to ensure normal power was indeed restored.

At 4:45 p.m. the switch was made to normal power and the
generator continued to run for another 30 minutes. At 5:15 p.m. the
generator was shut down and normal power was restored. However, the
LCD display began announcing rapid error messages. Power was not
restored to the drive system and the generator failed to start,
hatchery officials indicated. Low normal voltage was recording on
the LCD display and emergency power had failed.

The hatchery employee contacted other workers, and they
attempted to contact their regular electrical contractor and both
were out of town. They did contact them by phone and walked them
through a simulated power failure, but the system failed to accept
the power transfer, officials said. The electrician finally arrived
at 8 p.m. and found that one leg of the three-leg system was out.
By 8:30 p.m. the generator was started and two well pumps were put
back into service. The electrician was able to get the final two
well pumps working, but with the immediate increase in water flow
an air lock developed. It was an hour before reasonable flow was
restored to the lowest raceways.

The power company arrived around 9 p.m. to work on the problem.
Normal power was restored by midnight. By that time, the damage had
been done with lack of oxygen a major factor to the loss of the
fish.

In addition to the lake trout, the hatchery also lost an
estimated 8,500 brook trout of the 15,000 remaining. Fortunately,
60,000 had already been stocked. The final inventory of losses will
be completed in May, officials said.

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