Aging Fish Hatchery Earmarked For Improvements - Pisgah Forest, NC


July 13, 2017

Times Photo

Improvements to the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest are in the planning stages.

Numbers don't lie. Trout fishing is big business in Western North Carolina.

Statewide, trout fishing has a $384 million economic impact, according to a study published in 2015 for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Trout fishing supports 3,600 jobs in North Carolina, and hatchery-supported waters drew the most anglers.

In this year's state budget, about $5.3 million has been earmarked for some major updates at the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest. The Setzer location provides about two-thirds of trout in local waters and is the largest recreation hatchery in the state.

The new Setzer hatchery project is still in the planning phase, according to Kyle Briggs, chief deputy director for North Carolina fish hatcheries. Of the $5.3 million earmarked in the budget, $4.5 million would be for new raceways, where the fish live, and $750,000 would be for a new building that houses the offices and young trout rearing tanks. Renovations would not impact the Pisgah Wildlife Education Center.

The hatchery's operation costs come from fishing and hunting license sales.

It's not clear how much the project may eventually cost and the $5.3 million is not a direct appropriation but is simply an amount earmarked for the project.

During the mid-1990s, the N.C. Wildlife Commission renovated some of the Setzer hatchery, including adding a liquid oxygen aeration system that increased production.

The Setzer hatchery now produces about 250,000 pounds, or 70 percent of the state's, of trout annually. The Armstrong hatchery, located North of Marion, produces the rest.

"We did some renovations to Setzer around 1996 to 98," said Briggs. "We redid concrete raceways there and we jackhammered down to sound concrete and poured new walls, but over time the old concrete degrades, and in the near distant future we're going to have to take a look at these raceways. We have an (engineering) firm that has been working on that for the last year to determine what needs to be done there."

Briggs started his career at the Pisgah hatchery, which was built in the 1950s, when he was 24 in 1994. He said it's just time to replace aging infrastructure.

New fish raceways will hold fish, where rainbow and brown trout spend their days until they are big enough for a release into the nearby Davidson River, or are trucked to other local rivers, such as the North Mills or East Fork of the French Broad River.

One issue at the Setzer hatchery is the intakes are being clogged with silt from Grogan Creek, washing down from trails like Cat Gap and Butter Gap. A reroute is planned for the upper end of Butter Gap Trail. It is unclear if the steeper Cat Gap Loop is affecting the intakes.

Another issue is that during the last renovation, teams poured new concrete on top of old footers and foundations already in place, and the new concrete is beginning to crack at that joint.

An intake is basically a dam that diverts some of the flow. In a watershed, where there is movement in the soils, the silt buildup can be exacerbated by location, said Adam Motacak, the hatchery's operations manager. Motacak said that silt washing downstream fills the intakes and he and his crew have to dredge them.

"It actually clogs our low-head oxygenators that supply oxygen to our fish," he said. "Water can't pass through the holes. There's so much silt that comes through. Within the last three years, the amount of silt has dramatically increased. There has always been some silt, and our forests are pretty silty, but it has increased dramatically in recent years."

Motacak said it is getting harder and harder to raise fish with all the silt washing downstream.


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