SPEARFISH — People may think fish weren’t affected by winter storm Atlas, but storm-related problems left about 1,000 fish dead and fisheries officials are looking for options to protect others exposed to predators.
Several feet of snow plugged the small feeder creek to the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in Spearfish that provides water to the ponds and raceways home to about 30,000 fish at present.
That snow basically absorbed the water and only a trickle was flowing into one of the raceways with brood stock rainbow trout.
When Mitch Adams, the ranger at D.C. Booth, discovered the problem, approximately 1,000 fish, or about 90 percent, in one raceway were dead.
“It’s a pretty sad deal,” Adams said.
The hatchery is equipped with a backup well, but the amount of water required at the hatchery quickly overwhelmed the capacity of the well.
Adams found the problem on the morning of Oct. 5. “I caught it at the last minute and started diverting water,” he said.
Adams, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the only person allowed on hatchery grounds during the government shutdown.
“If there had been more people here a lot of this could have been avoided,” he said. “Someone would have noticed it earlier.”
At McNenny State Fish Hatchery, near the Wyoming state line, the raceway covers, called WeatherPorts, collapsed under the weight of the snow.
The covers, about 16 feet wide and 300 feet long, are essentially large tents held up by tubular steel supports that keep the sun and predators out of the fish-rich raceways.
“The weight of the snow collapsed the tubular steel,” said Mike Barnes, manager of the state-run hatchery that raises and stocks rainbow trout and Chinook salmon.
Barnes said about 6,000 trout and 12,000 salmon need to be stocked still this year. Another 50,000 trout will still be reared at the hatchery for next year.
Barnes said he did not know the cost to replace the WeatherPorts but said they would cost “a good chunk of change.”
Barnes said the sun now beating down on the raceways will create more algae growth, and predators, like herons and ospreys, will now be able to feed on the small fish.
“Anglers won’t notice a difference and there won’t be a loss in production. We will just need to grow some more to make up the losses,” he said.