Kentucky Life visits the Minor E Clark Fish Hatchery in Morehead, which produces the fish that stock lakes across the commonwealth.
Where do all those fish come from in Kentucky’s lakes? What isn’t there naturally is provided by the Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery in Morehead.
The hatchery was built in conjunction with the Cave Run Lake dam and is named for the state’s first fisheries biologist.
Pete Basant, assistant manager at the hatchery, explained that it’s a big advantage to have a gravity fed water source. “You don’t have to spend money on pumping water or moving water. It’s a huge energy saver.”
Spawning begins in March each year, said they start harvesting walleye at the end of April. They move smaller fish to ponds to continue growing in the summer.
“During the months of May and June is when we’re stocking most of the fingerling fish that we’re producing,” said Basant.
Beginning in August, harvest of the bigger fish begins. “We grow muskie to 13 inch size in that one season,” said Basant.
Rod Middleton, hatchery manager, said some fish wouldn’t be available without the hatchery. “If it wasn’t for the stocking program, a lot of these species wouldn’t be out there in the wild,” he said; for example, few muskie reproduce in the wild.
If fish can’t find the food they need, like zooplankton and phytoplankton, they won’t grow as big, said Basant. Then they turn on each other. “If they can’t find what they need to eat, they’ll start looking at their little brothers and sisters,” said Basant.
Tom Timmerman, biologist with the Northeastern Fisheries district, said once the fish are ready to be released into the wild, they could go anywhere in the state. “That’s just depending on what the specific needs are at the various lakes and streams,” he said. Some lakes are stocked regularly with certain fish species: Cave Run gets muskie, Lake Cumberland gets striped bass.
Each region has a district biologist who requests fish species for the local water bodies. Timmerman said that at low nutrient lakes, the biologists suggest minimum size limits for anglers to help the fish grow bigger.
“Other than that, the water quality is our biggest concern,” said Basant. Fish extract oxygen from the water through their gills, so biologists monitor bodies of water for dissolved oxygen and put aeration systems in place.
The hatchery is funded through fees paid by anglers and receives no tax dollars.