Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

Local fish hatcheries are a great place for kids to learn

Big things start out small, and many area youth have recently had a chance to see just where such colossal fish such as the northern pike, walleye and jumbo perch get a jump start on life.

On April 24, 2006, as part of the Barnes County Wildlife/US Fish and Wildlife Service-sponsored Junior Naturalists program, one dozen young participants from the Valley City area had a chance to see just exactly what goes on each spring at the United States Fish Hatchery.

Ron Zitzow of the USFWS gave an introduction to the Valley City Fish Hatchery and the reasons behind why fish are raised there. "We stock fish into lakes throughout North Dakota to give anglers the opportunity to catch more fish," he explained to the budding biologists.

Zitzow further stated that there are many types of fish raised at the hatchery, including northern pike, walleye, crappie and yellow perch. He then showed an introductory video which explained the fish spawning and raising processes at the hatchery.

The fish are collected in large nets each spring with the help of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and its staff. The males and females of each spawning species - pike early in spring and walleye a week or two later - are sorted, separated and placed in holding tanks on large boats. The females are then stimulated to release their eggs by a firm squeeze and slide along the stomach. Males are then milked to provide the proper fertilization of those eggs. The fish are then released back into the water.

The tanks are a popular attraction at the fish hatcheries

Perhaps the most exciting part of the evening came with the tour of the hatchery facilities, where millions of tiny fish eggs and fry were stored in the rearing building. Here, fertilized eggs from northern pike and yellow perch were in the beginning phases of rearing. Participants in the Junior Naturalists program were able to view newly-hatched fry, called "sac-fry," and eggs in their rearing containers and through a microscope. It was possible to see the developing fish in their eggs as their hearts beat and their tails twitched every so often.

Zitzow showed the participants the holding tanks filled with adult yellow perch, and how each fish was stimulated to remove the eggs and milt necessary to complete fertilization.

The Junior Naturalists were not the only group to tour the facilities during the month of April. "We've had a lot of visitors this spring, from college kids to kindergarteners," stated Stacy Hoehn, a USFWS biologist based out of the Valley City Fish Hatchery. Hoehn expressed great satisfaction at seeing so many interested students on each tour.

"One member of a kindergarten class told me that because of the tour, this was the best day of his life; that was great to hear," she commented.

The exploration of how fish are born, raised and eventually end up in our lakes and rivers was an enjoyable learning experience for all participants and was well attended. The next meeting of the Junior Naturalists will be on May 15, 2006 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be the year end spring fishing in the kids' pond at the USFWS facility.

If you have a group that would like to visit the Valley City Fish Hatchery, contact the main office at (701)845-3464 to gain some insight on how humans turn something small into big fishing opportunities…in our outdoors.