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Fish Hatchery

Welaka is the only national fish hatchery in Florida and has two units. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WNFH raises warm water fish that do best in summer water temperatures that reach 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Ponds are operated at two locations. Those ponds at headquarters, near the aquarium, are called the Welaka Unit, and the second group of ponds about three miles south of headquarters is called the Beecher Unit.
Visitor map and information about the Welaka National Fish Hatchery. Bottom right view of ponds at the Beecher Unit by Ebyabe, Wikipedia Commons. Tap or click photo to see a higher resolution version of this image.

 

Between 4.5 to 5 million fish are annually raised in 41 ponds, targeting species that are vital to the fishery resources of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the coastal United States, including striped bass, largemouth bass, and the threatened Gulf of Mexico sturgeon.

One particular project with national emphasis involves restoring two different strains of Striped Bass, one from the Gulf of Mexico and the other from the Atlantic Ocean.

Fishing has traditionally been one of America’s favorite forms of outdoor recreation and the Welaka National Fish Hatchery is endeavoring to preserve this tradition for present and future generations of Americans.

Welaka National Fish Hatchery’s effort to restore the Striped Bass. Tap or click photo to see a higher resolution version of this image.

 

Adult stripers, captured from our rivers and reared at the hatchery, provide the eggs for the hatchery program. Once the eggs and milt (sperm) are taken, the adults taken from the wild are returned to their native waters.

The fertilized eggs are incubated, and the larval fry that hatch from the eggs are cultured artificially. Newborn fish have their own food supply in an attached yolk sac. After this source is absorbed, the tiny fish are transferred to hatchery rearing ponds where they feed on a natural diet of microscopic organisms. Young striped bass are particularly vulnerable to pollution, starvation, and predators during these stages and in the wild, untold numbers are lost. However, on the hatchery the fish are protected and experience the best possible conditions for surviving.

After 25 to 40 days, these fish grow to an average length of two inches and some are stocked at this size. Others are held and fed scientifically formulated diets to attain maximum growth. By the fall, these fish have reached a size of 6 to 8 inches and are ready for stocking. These larger fish are stocked into special areas of selected river systems and tributaries from which they originated. Fishery managers expect that these supplemental stockings will help restore depleted striped bass populations. A number of fish are tagged, enabling biologists to evaluate the success of the stocking programs.

Ponds at Beecher Unit from Observation Deck at Welaka. Photo by Ebyabe, Wikipedia Commons