The NHCFH is a state-of-the-art, fish culture facility that runs on a water re-circulation system and is operated almost solely by volunteers. Members actively contribute over 8,500 hours annually to various components of hatchery operations, including maintenance functions and administration. The many steps in the fish production process are conducted by volunteers, often with support from North Hastings High School students in specialized outdoor programs and oversight from the Bancroft District MNRF.
A dedicated team of volunteers in conjunction with Bancroft District MNRF staff work each fall to gather eggs from an identified naturally reproducing ‘donor’ lake. Nets are set over spawning shoals in the morning and left for a 24 hour period before being retrieved the following morning. Caught fish are processed and the adult lake trout are milked of approximately 30% of their eggs and sperm, and then returned immediately to the spawning shoal. Fertilized eggs are carefully transported back to the hatchery for rearing. The eggs are disinfected to reduce the potential for disease, measured for a quantity estimate, and placed in incubation trays in round combi-tanks.
From this point on, volunteers monitor and feed the fish, clean tanks and check equipment on a twice-daily basis. Full inventories occur on Tuesday mornings (at least bi-weekly) where the average size and quantities of fish are determined.
Incubation / Early Rearing: After 1 to 2 months, the fry emerge and absorb their egg sacs, turning into active swimmers. At this point, vibrator feeders are installed over the combi-tanks to provide food for the fish. By the end of March, the fish are approximately 0.5 to 1 gram in size.
Fingerlings: Once the fish reach approximately 4.5 to 5 grams or finger size, which is usually around June, they are moved to larger raceways. In August, the fish are distributed into more tanks to avoid over-crowding and allow for better growth. By mid-October, the fish are approximately 40 grams or 6 to 8 inches in size, and can be stocked as fall fingerlings.
Yearlings: Fish that are held over until spring will reach approximately 170 to 200 grams (well above the provincial average) by April / May.
Fin Clipping: To prepare for stocking, the fish are fin clipped a minimum of 6 weeks prior to stocking. The purpose of the fin clip is to assign an annual identifier to stocked fish so that they can be distinguished from naturally reproduced fish in the same lake. The fin that receives the clip is determined by the MNRF’s provincial 5-year rotation schedule. Fish are placed in a container and temporarily ‘knocked out’ using a special drug administered by an MNRF technician. The designated fin is then clipped using small surgical scissors, and the fish are placed in a recovery container until active before being returned to the raceways.
Stocking: A full inventory is done within 72 hours of stocking to ensure that an accurate average weight is being used for stocking calculations. Volunteers use their own vehicles to assemble mobile fish transport units that include a tank with lid, oxygen tanks and piping, and a dissolved oxygen (DO) / temperature meter for monitoring levels during transport. Once the water in the tank reaches a preferred level of DO, the fish are weighed by the bucket full and loaded onto the truck for transport to a designated ‘recipient’ lake.