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Opinion: State revives trout hatchery with modern equipment

Here’s some great news for Georgia’s trout fishing community! Long-anticipated renovations have been completed at the Burton Trout Hatchery, located in Rabun County on Moccasin Creek next to Lake Burton, and the hatchery is open once again.

This hatchery, located approximately 20 miles north of Clarkesville on Ga. 197, is one of three state-operated hatcheries which supply trout to Georgia’s public waters. It was constructed in the late 1930s and renovated in the late 1970s. In recent years, it has produced about 300,000 trout (rainbows and browns) annually, accounting for roughly a third of the trout stocked in Georgia’s streams, making it an important contributor to the state’s overall trout fishing program.

But time takes a toll on everything, including trout hatcheries, and it had become clear that this one needed some work. Its concrete raceways were deteriorating. Its offices were old and, in the words of Georgia DNR, “dilapidated.” It needed better storage space for equipment as well as climate-controlled storage for trout food.

The hatchery also needed a better way to deal with drought. In the past, periods of severe drought meant that the hatchery’s fish had to be moved to some other facility or, in extreme cases, stocked before they were ready to go into the wild.

The recent renovations at the hatchery gave the facility the proverbial new lease on life.

“We are so excited to get this renovated facility open so we can get back to the business of raising quality trout to better serve the angling public,” noted John Lee Thomson, Georgia DNR’s trout program coordinator.

Early in the design process, Thomson and other Georgia fisheries personnel visited five hatcheries in Wyoming to learn how that state was able to raise trout under relatively dry conditions.

“They raise a lot of trout production,” he says, “but they don’t have a lot of water.”

One key, the team learned, was the use of round trout rearing tanks instead of the more familiar linear raceways. The circular tanks use significantly less water than do more traditional linear raceways, greatly reducing the impact of drought, and an added plus is that water leaving the tanks is cleaner and can be used in other parts of the hatchery.

The renovated Burton hatchery is making good use of this round-tank approach to rearing trout. The site now includes eight 16-foot-diameter trout rearing tanks which are housed in a new trout production building. Almost all of the water flowing from the new round tanks is cleaned and reused in downstream raceways to further enhance the hatchery’s ability to deal with drought conditions.

A state-of-the-art oxygen injection system is now in operation too. This system ensures that there is plenty of oxygen in the water, further enhancing the site’s trout-rearing capabilities.

Together, Thomson said, those improvements “allow us to raise a lot more fish with a lot less water.”

The new facility also features a climate-controlled feed storage building and a new dam and water intake structure on Moccasin Creek, the source of the water which flows into the hatchery. Other improvements include a new office building, a new warehouse, and a new on-site residence, plus new paving in the parking area and a new boat ramp.

The Burton Trout Hatchery is approximately 20 miles north of Clarkesville on Ga.197. For information on visiting the hatchery, call the Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division Region 2 office at 770-535-5498.