Ohio’s oldest fish hatchery to get a $2 million makeover
By JANE BEATHARD
LONDON – At more than 100 years old, the London State Fish Hatchery is thriving on a colorful past and looking to a bright future.
The oldest of Ohio’s six state fish hatcheries is slated for an upgrade, beginning in the spring of 2014. A $2.1 million project to improve electrical service, install back-up generators and add alarm systems to monitor dissolved oxygen in the water is proposed in the state’s new biennial budget, according to Scott Hale of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
ODNR’s engineering division is working through pre-construction details, Hale said.
Improvements are welcome at 83-acre London facility that currently produces both rainbow and brown trout, as well as muskellunge (muskies), for stocking in Ohio’s public waters.
Historically, its natural cold springs and the presence of Oak Run Creek made it an attractive site for growing fish. But, the property had other uses in the early 1800s.
It was once the site of a distillery and a grist mill. Settled in 1812 by John and George Sutherland, it was acquired by Jacob Garrard in 1823, according to a history compiled in 1978.
ODNR’s predecessor, the Ohio Fish & Game Commission, obtained the hatchery’s original 7.8 acres in 1896 from a Garrard descendant.
George Morcher was hired as the first superintendent in 1898 and held the job for the next 39 years.
In those days, the “fish farm” (as it was called) produced large and smallmouth bass, crappies, rock bass, bluegills and marble catfish for stocking in central Ohio waters. A sanctuary for birds and a wildlife display drew visitors who often picnicked on the grounds. The neighboring Roberts family held annual reunions on the grounds.
Widespread drought in the early 1930s reduced the hatchery’s natural water supply and forced the facility to close in 1940.
ODNR reopened the facility 20 years later and began restoring drains, dikes and ponds in order to raise muskies on a limited basis.
Inmate laborers from the adjacent London Correctional Institution reconstructed ponds and installed a new drainage system in 1962.
Abundant supplies of cold spring and sub-surface water made the hatchery ideal for growing coho salmon. In the late 1960s, ODNR drilled wells and constructed a raceway — a man-made canal with rapidly flowing water — for salmon production.
In 1969, ODNR began an ambitious improvement project. New buildings, including a new home for the superintendent, went up. A new dam with flood gates spanned Oak Run Creek.
In the years since, state biologists used the facility to experiment in raising a variety of fish species, including walleye, bass and saugeye.
Seven wells now pump 600 to 1,000 gallons of cold water per minute into nine indoor rearing troughs, 34 ponds and the outdoor earthen raceway.
Until recently, the hatchery raised trout from its own brood stock. However, that proved financially unfeasible.
London’s technicians now buy rainbow trout eggs from hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest. Those eggs are hatched and grown to fingerling size, then transferred to state hatcheries at Kincaid in southern Ohio and Castalia near Lake Erie. It takes about a year for the teenage fish to reach a stockable length at those facilities.
Brown trout eggs come from a federal hatchery in Wyoming and are grown to stockable size at London.
Muskie eggs are collected from female fish in state reservoirs in April, hatched and reared at London, then stocked in public lakes and reservoirs in September. Forage minnows to feed the growing muskies are also grown at London.
In the past, fish hatchery staff also cultivated hybrid striped bass. Efforts to expand this program will continue, Hale said.
Doug Sweet, the current superintendent, said hatcheries like London improve outdoor recreation in Ohio and are financially self-sustaining.
“All fish stocked — especially trout — return revenue to the state in the form of fishing license sales,” Sweet said.
(Jane Beathard is a staff writer for The Madison Press.)