Here in Ontario fish stocking on heavily fished lakes in most cases is what keeps these fish populations thriving. Approximately 8 million fish are stocked annually by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). About 50% of these fish are stocked to provide what is called a put-grow and take fishery (hatchery dependant). The main purpose of this style of fish culture is to take angling pressure off native strains that are susceptible to over harvesting. This is done by releasing fish that are intended to be taken or “fished out”. This type of fishery also provides more successful angling opportunities to the public. The remaining 50% of hatchery raised fish are stocked to rehabilitate degraded lakes and rivers that were once over harvested. This stocking method is used to encourage natural reproduction making that particular water body as sustainable as it once was. These 8 million hatchery raised fish are distributed over 1200 water bodies in the province of Ontario. Over 100 of these water bodies are located in Haliburton county and the surrounding area.
What are they stocking?
A total of 11 species of fish are raised and stocked by the MNR and partnerships such as the HHOA. These species include Walleye, Lake Trout, Brook Trout, Splake, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Aurora Trout, Atlantic Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chinook Salmon and Lake Whitefish. Deciding what species to stock and where to stock them is done by the MNR. Several variables come into play while deciding this including habitat suitability, water quality, water temperature, available food sources and many more.
What we do
Since 1998 the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association has stocked 467,334 hatchery raised fish in the surrounding area. In the past Walleye, Brook trout, Rainbow trout, and the prized Haliburton Gold (lake trout) have all been raised and stocked by a group of dedicated volunteers and professionals from this hatchery. Since 1999 the hatchery has been focusing on the Haliburton lake trout project (HLTP) the objective of this project is to restore certain lakes with a glacial strain of lake trout (Haliburton Gold) and to restore its original habitat. These fish are known to live in the same unproductive (Oligotrophic) deep, cold waters as traditional lake trout strains, but grow significantly smaller and have slightly different gold coloration. This glacial relict is found only in a few lakes located within the Haliburton Highlands.
The fiscal year of the fish hatchery, begins each June with a signed formal agreement between Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario, as represented by the Minister of Natural Resources and the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association. In August, volunteers begin collecting equipment (from various parts of the hatchery) which will be used for the annual egg collection. During lake trout spawning in October (usually the week of Thanksgiving) MNR and HHOA volunteers perform a wild egg collection on Halls Lake, Stanhope Township or Redstone Lake, Guilford Township. This past fall, we collected approximately 14,000 eggs from Halls Lake and accepted another 7,000 Manitou Lake Trout fingerlings from the Whitelake Fish Culture Station. The egg collection typically takes place over three separate days and takes about 10 hours per day. For Walleye, egg collection takes place in the spring.
Several volunteers travel to the spawning shoals by boat to set gill nets to collect spawning lake trout. Upon shore, others prepare the spawning and data collection stations. When the fish are brought to shore, they are anesthetized to reduce stress. A small sample of the caudal fin is removed from the fish used in the egg collection for genetic testing by MNR and each is tagged with both an external T-tag and an internal Pit-tag. Ten mating pairs will be used for each Halls Lake and Kingscote Lake egg collection. After the roe and milt are collected, the fish are put into a recovery tank before being released back to the lake. Back at the hatchery, the eggs are disinfected, number of eggs collected is tabulated and the eggs are set in a special incubation room.
After egg collection, the fish are reared according to standard Aquaculture practices. Trained volunteers are used to maintain the hatchery, feeding, inventory and care for the fish. A full-time supervisor with aquaculture experience is on staff to assist all volunteers and perform Managerial duties. Due care is given to the eggs, on a daily basis all dead eggs are removed to prevent fungus. Upon hatching, the dead fry are removed as well and the fish are carefully watched for swim-up and first feeding. All fry are hand-fed every fifteen minutes, six to eight hours a day, for one month before being fed by a vibrating feeder. This is to make sure the fish are taking to the feed. Once the fish begin to eat only three times a day, they are again hand-fed by volunteers. This continues until they are stocked out. In October each year, we receive brook trout or rainbow trout from an MNR Fish Culture Station to grow out for the local put-grow & take fisheries.
Fish stocking takes place at the end of April. If the fish grow at a fast rate, and their water requirements for rearing density surpass our permissible water allowance, we will stock early. Target weight for the fish at stocking is 45 grams. Using a tank on the back of a truck and using a helicopter, the fish are stocked into crown waters as determined by the MNR. Approximately four lakes are stocked with Halls Lake strain Lake Trout, one lake with Kingscote Lake Trout and fifteen to twenty with Brook Trout. From egg collection, Halls Lake and Kingscote Lake Trout are at the hatchery for 18 months, the Brook Trout or Rainbow Trout only 6 months.