Renovation OK’d for Kettle Moraine hatchery

Adell, Wis. — A $14 million renovation of the Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery that will allow the DNR to raise more Great Lakes trout and salmon has been tentatively approved as part of the new two-year state budget.

The planning process will be completed by next June. Construction will be done in phases, with completion scheduled for 2016.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp made the announcement at the hatchery July 19, along with DNR Bureau of Fisheries Director Mike Staggs and DNR Fisheries Culture Section Chief Al Kaas, who oversees all the hatcheries.

Kaas said this renovation is a stand-alone project that is not part of Gov. Scott Walker’s “walleye initiative.”

After renovation, the hatchery will have an annual capacity of about 540,000 steelhead yearlings of three strains: Chambers Creek, Ganaraska, and Skamania. The steelhead fingerlings will be stocked in Lake Michigan tributaries.

The Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery supplied a total of 280,455 yearling Chambers Creek and Ganaraska steelhead this year. Another 130,464 Arlee-strain rainbow trout raised at the Lake Mills hatchery also were stocked. At its projected capacity, that means almost a quarter million more trout could be stocked in Lake Michigan at a time when salmon stocking is being reduced due to a decline in the forage base. Increased natural reproduction of chinook salmon in the Great Lakes also has been documented, primarily in Michigan tributaries.

In 2012, Wisconsin stocked 1,175,213 chinooks and 542,192 cohos in Lake Michigan. As part of an agreement with other Great Lakes states, those numbers were reduced to 802,061 chinooks and 383,339 cohos this year. Brown trout stocking was reduced from 672,713 fish in 2012 to 609,351 this year.
When it comes to the number of fish that can be stocked in Lake Michigan, salmon and trout are not equal.

“A rainbow, because it eats things other than alewives, isn’t worth as much in terms of predation (on alewives) as a chinook,” Staggs said. “We can actually stock several rainbows for one chinook. There will be a tradeoff somewhere – brown trout, chinooks, or cohos – if we decide to go back up to the 540,000 target for rainbow yearlings.”
Staggs said he believes increasing the percentage of steelhead (lake-run rainbows) compared to salmon will produce a better-balanced fishery in Lake Michigan. He said most anglers want that, based on meetings he has attended.

Production of steelhead cannot be shifted to other hatcheries that are producing fewer salmon.

“Chinooks are the simplest and easiest fish for us to raise,” Staggs said. “They are only in the hatchery for a few months. Rainbows we are trying to raise are yearlings that take two years to raise. Facilities-wise, trading one chinook for one rainbow doesn’t work, because the chinooks are in and out and the rainbows take more time and space.”

Staggs said there is no other hatchery other than KMS that could easily be modified to raise steelhead. He is confident the renovated KMS is a good investment that will be used for a long time. He said the life expectancy of the hatchery will be 50 years, with appropriate maintenance and updates.

The quantity and quality of water is the biggest concern for the renovation. A total of three wells and four groundwater springs are being used now. The groundwater availability is inconsistent, and during droughts it is insufficient. Some of the wells and spring boxes are in poor condition, and the water supply has high levels of iron and hydrogen sulfide.

Adding to the water-supply problem is the fact some of the water-treatment systems are inefficient or have failed. The wastewater treatment system also needs upgrades.

A groundwater study will determine the quality and quantity available. It also will look at how neighbors will be affected by the hatchery using more water.

Kaas hopes the renovation will include an isolation brood stock facility to rear Skamania-strain steelhead. This strain used to be reared at KMS, but since the detection of VHS disease, that has not been allowed.

KMS personnel currently collect spawn from Chambers Creek- and Ganaraska-strain rainbows to be hatched and reared. Hatchery supervisor Andrew Hron said these strains run upstream in spring and can be captured when they’re ready to spawn. The eggs can then be fertilized and transported to the hatchery.

Hron said Skamania strain spawn in February, but they start moving upstream in summer because in their natural habitat it takes several months to reach spawning grounds. When Skamania run up the Root River they encounter a fish-proof barrier three miles upstream where they are captured and held. The eggs and milt are collected at the right time, and the fish eventually go back to Lake Michigan and disperse.

According to Hron, the only effective way to raise Skamania is to capture adult fish now and raise them at a facility until February, when the eggs can be harvested. Since the Skamania could theoretically be infected with VHS, they cannot be stored at a facility with other fish strains that eventually will be stocked. Building a brood stock isolation facility would eliminate the cross-contamination possibility, and Skamania could again be raised at the hatchery.

Staggs said the design of the renovated hatchery will give the DNR flexibility to change to production of other species in the future if the state’s stocking plan changes. KMS will continue to raise 100,000 to 200,000 chinook fingerlings.

The groundwater study and a detailed plan of the renovation must be submitted to the Legislature by June 30, 2014. After the full scope of the project is understood, the Legislature is expected to give final approval for $7 million to be used for construction in 2015 and another $7 million for 2016.

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