By Brad Hicks
The historic and deadly flash flooding that struck White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., in late June left sheer devastation in its wake.
More than 1,000 homes were destroyed. More than 20 lives were lost.
Also caught in the path of destruction was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery.
The hatchery, located in Greenbrier County, W. Va., was heavily damaged by the June 23 flooding of Wade’s Creek. The hatchery’s raceways, where fish are raised, were flooded, resulting in the deaths of around 15,000 adult rainbow trout broodstock, according to the USFWS. Another 30,000 juvenile future broodstock were impacted by the flooding. The hatchery, according to the USFWS, was depopulated on these fish appropriately in consultation with health biologists and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.
It is estimated that the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery will not again be fully operational for another two years. However, the hatchery, being a broodstock hatchery that provides eggs to other federal, state and tribal hatcheries, has commitments to provide eggs to hatcheries throughout the USFWS’s Northeast Region and other areas.
In the aftermath of the flooding, the USFWS began assessing whether other state and federal hatcheries in the national broodstock program could provide eggs to meet the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery’s demand.
This led the USFWS to call upon two of its hatcheries – the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and the Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Ennis, Mont. – to ensure the eggs that would have been shipped from the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery reach their destinations.
“Between the two of us, we have their commitments covered,” said Erwin National Fish Hatchery Manager Norm Heil.
The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery was committed to the production and shipment of approximately 4 million eggs, according to Heil. He said the Ennis National Fish Hatchery is picking up the bulk of the damaged hatchery’s commitments, with the Erwin facility offering assistance to its sister station in West Virginia.
The assistance of the Erwin and Ennis hatcheries was sought, Heil said, because each facility raises the same strains of trout as the White Sulphur Springs facility. Heil said the USFWS maintains backups such as this in the event disasters inhibit a hatchery’s ability to operate.
“We’re lucky we had all that in place,” Heil said.
The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery, established in the early 1900s, sustained significant structural damage, Heil said. Along with fish-rearing structures, the hatchery’s main facility, other structures and parking area were also impacted.
“It was considered a 100 percent loss of the fish,” Heil said.
But while significant fish losses were realized, mussels and crayfish at the station, which are raised there for the restoration and recovery of imperiled and endangered species, survived, according to the USFWS. The West Virginia hatchery must be cleaned and disinfected before repairs can be made and fish can again be raised there.
Along with helping the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery meet its shipment commitments, Heil said the Erwin and Ennis facilities will also work to supply eggs to the station to allow it to hit the ground running once it is ready to resume full operations.
In the meantime, the Erwin National Fish Hatchery will continue to meet its own obligations, Heil said. Last year, approximately 14 million trout eggs were shipped from the local facility to hatcheries throughout the country.
“We’ll certainly continue to meet our Southeast (Region) commitments and help them along the way,” Heil said.