By taking eggs from native brookies, fertilizing them and putting them in a hatchery to develop, WV biologists will be able to stock fish that are, in every respect, untouched hatchery culture. What makes the fish a native trout is its genetics. Once you have the same strain in a hatchery for a long time, you tend to breed out its natural instincts and scare responses. Using the new approach, you don’t have the fish in a hatchery environment long enough to lose those instincts.
WV kicked off the effort last fall when they visited a native brook-trout stream in WV’s Eastern Panhandle, captured several breeding-sized fish, stripped them of eggs and milt, and released them unharmed back into their native waters. The fertilized eggs were taken to university aquaculture facility for hatching. When the spawn is three inches long they are released in spring in an Eastern Panhandle stream that lost its native population years ago. Previously the state tried to offset the losses of native fish by replacing them with hatchery-strain fish.
Other hatchery brook trout didn’t seem to do well at reproducing on their own. The effort is starting small. Last fall, during the brook-trout spawning season, biologists collected nine egg-laden female brookies and 16 males. The fish were “milked” for their eggs and milt. Not all the eggs that were fertilized turned out to be viable. Ninety of them hatched. Since then, they have enjoyed near-total survival.
They’ll be put in a tributary of the Cacapon River, not far from the tributary they were taken from. The streams have similar elevations, water temperatures, and water quality, so chances are they’ll adapt to the new stream.