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RALEIGH, N.C. (Sept. 27) - Although they may not know him, North Carolina anglers will reap the benefits of the hard work Jeff Evans has put in at the Watha State Fish Hatchery over the last 16 months.

Since March 2005, the hatchery superintendent and his crew have overseen extensive renovations at the Pender County facility that will increase the hatchery's capacity to raise and stock warmwater fishes in public, inland waters across the state by 50 percent.

"We've installed a water re-use system to improve the drainage and water supply systems," Evans said. "We've also constructed a 12,000-sq.ft. fish production building that will increase our production capacity of striped bass, American shad, channel catfish and other warmwater fishes needed for our fishery management programs."

They also have reshaped production ponds and installed harvest kettles for each pond so they could more efficiently harvest the ponds for statewide stocking of fingerlings.

Before the renovation process, the numbers of hatchery-produced fishes stocked varied from 3 to 4 million in a given year. Now, Evans expects that more than 6 million fishes will be stocked annually. Initially, the Commission will concentrate stocking efforts on producing American shad fry for its American shad restoration program.

Thirty-eight ponds totaling 45 acres of water will provide temporary accommodations for seven other fish species:
Striped bass - stocked in fourteen inland reservoirs, as well as four coastal rivers in eastern North Carolina
Bodie bass (hybrid cross between striped bass and white bass) - stocked in six inland reservoirs
Channel catfish - stocked in the Commission's Community Fishing Program sites statewide
Largemouth bass, bluegill and redear and redbreast sunfishes - stocked based on requests from district fisheries biologists to augment existing fisheries or to create a fishery in a new pond or lake

The renovations, funded through a $5 million grant comprising Federal Aid Sportfish Restoration funds and the Wildlife Endowment fund, were badly needed since space limitations at the old hatchery prevented Commission personnel from producing multiple fish species efficiently at one time.

"In the past, our spawning and hatching facilities were only large enough to focus our production efforts on one species - like striped bass - at a time," Evans said. "Once annual production goals were met, then we could shift our efforts into producing channel catfish or American shad."

Now, the facility is large enough to produce several species at one time and fulfill all stocking requests in a timely, efficient manner.

"The Commission's newly renovated facility and water supplies at Watha are designed with flexibility for the future in mind," Evans said. "Not only has the production capacity of the facility been dramatically increased, but the facility has the capability of accommodating any foreseeable changes in the Commission's warmwater fish production needs for the future."

Before 1992, the Commission conducted its warmwater fish production program at a fish hatchery in Fayetteville; however, due to space shortages and poor water quality, stocking requests for warmwater fishes were either incomplete or not fulfilled.

In 1992, the Commission purchased the hatchery near Watha because it was large enough with optimal water quality to satisfy all warmwater fish production needs. From 1992 to 2002, these production needs expanded dramatically, with annual stocking numbers for striped bass fingerlings doubling from 600,000 to 1.2 million and channel catfish expanding from 30,000 to 180,000. Additionally, the American shad stocking began in 1999 as part of the Roanoke River restoration program.

"The Watha facility's expanded need for fish production made the renovations necessary in order to serve current and future needs for managing fishery resources statewide," Evans said.

For information on fishing in North Carolina's public, inland waters, visit the Commission's Web site, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.


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