HHOA hatchery approaches milestone 0
If you've ever caught rainbow or lake trout or walleye in Haliburton County, the odds are good that the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association played a big part in your success.
The group is 3,600 fish and one stocking effort away from having placed a half-million fish into local lakes. Hatchery chairman Rex Henry says that significant milestone should be reached by the end of June with the introduction of 10,000 walleye fry into yet undisclosed lakes.
"We're just waiting for the right conditions to ensure a good release," says Henry. "Initially, we had planned on around June 19 but it might be a little later."
The achievement is a powerful testament to the public service given by scores of volunteers who have run the HHOA's hatchery since it began raising fish in 1997.
Then again, the HHOA and its hatchery on County Road 1, three kilometres outside of Haliburton, have been a community effort from the outset, relying heavily on support from local businesses and the county government. Additional support from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters was, and remains, important too.
Larry Hewitt of Hawk River Construction was presiding president as well as chairman of the building committee when the hatchery was conceived and constructed. He credits support and funding from all levels of government for moving the project forward.
"At the time, we thought that the provincial government was backing away from fish stocking and we saw an opportunity to raise local fish for local lakes. The Haliburton Gold lake trout allowed us to access provincial support," he says.
"I was initially worried about building a white elephant and not having the volunteers to stock it."
That concern was addressed with help from Sir Sanford Fleming College and MNR biologist David Flowers, who continues to play a critical role in the HHOA's operations.
"They helped train all of our volunteers so that they were equally educated and knowledgeable about running a hatchery. This helped create a favourable environment where no one person took over," says Hewitt.
Another key issue, he says, was addressed with the hiring of one full-time employee who co-ordinates the volunteer effort and removes a bit of worry and pressure from them so that they can focus on the task at hand-raising fish.
Haliburton County Warden Murray Fearrey says the county typically gives somewhere around $25,000 to the HHOA - and he believes that investment has paid off handsomely.
"Tourism is the county's largest industry. Fishing and the outdoors are a big part of that industry and these stockings create opportunities for residents and visitors alike," says Fearrey.
About 50 dedicated volunteers and one paid administrator now operate the HHOA hatchery year round. Their work is augmented by student groups that participate in special projects such as fin clipping, netting fish from the ponds and maintenance.
"The volunteers work under the direction of the MNR to determine what species of fish to raise, how many and what waters to stock. Hatchery volunteers take part in collecting wild eggs, incubation of those eggs, raising the newly hatched fry until they are big enough to release and finally stocking them into their destination lakes," says Henry. "All told, they donate about 10,000 hours annually."
The hatchery has also provided volunteer opportunities to local people, Hewitt says.
"When we started this, I had no idea of the social benefits to the community that it would provide. In our community, we have volunteers for the arts and other things, but there's also a group here interested in fishing who want to give back. The hatchery provides a way," he says.
Hewitt also believes that the educational spinoff is not given enough credit.
"I think that what goes on in the front of the building [the education] does more for fish culture than what goes on in the back of the building [the hatchery]. It puts information in anglers' hands that helps them be better conservationists."
Together, he says, these components have led to changing attitudes.
"For instance, it used to be that many local anglers would pressure lake trout right up to the end of September - they'd be catching a lot of females ready to spawn. Now the culture is such that that's frowned upon and so the fishing pressure is lighter then .... Raising a fish and throwing it in a lake is one thing; educating an angler to do the right thing for conservation is another. That would have never happened had we not started the hatchery."
Hewitt also notes that the science gained from MNR studies supported by the HHOA has changed the way fisheries have been managed. "Because of local studies on our lake trout the MNR has been enlightened and views slot sizes on small lakes differently."
Henry's attitude is typical of the volunteers.
"I enjoy working to improve fishing opportunities in many of the local lakes by stocking them with lake trout, rainbow trout and walleye. The Haliburton Highlands is famous for great fishing and I hope that our stocking efforts will keep it that way."
Hewitt also hopes that remains the case. "That place makes for a better community," he says.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or just taking a tour please drop by the hatchery at 6712 Gelert Rd., (County Road 1) or call 705-457-9664.