PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Suches, Georgia — In the early hours of June 4, the main water line to the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery was cut off, killing about 52,000 trout worth $62,000.
The Fannin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating. The hatchery’s friends group is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the fish-kill perpetrators.
“It’s beyond me why somebody would do this,” said Kelly Taylor, project leader at Chattahoochee. “Everybody and everything suffers as a result: the trout; the fishermen; and the taxpayers.”
The hatchery, built in 1937, produces 1 million trout each year, mainly rainbows for recreational fishing. Streams and lakes across north Georgia are stocked from March to September with the hatchery’s fish.
Rainbow trout prefer cold, fresh water that seldom exceeds 65 degrees. Higher water temperatures added to the death toll, Taylor said. With little water, the fish began dying and blocking the raceway screens which funnel water to the next raceway. In all, 12 of the hatchery’s 46 raceways were affected.
An estimated 51,265 fish were killed,valued at $61,887.
Taylor will soon do a more detailed inventory of losses. Many of the fish were for stocking this year. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which is also experiencing “a great year growing fish,” according to Taylor, may be able to pick up the stocking slack. The hatchery is one of three across the state taking part in a program to replenish rainbow trout in Georgia.
“This season’s fishing should not be compromised at all. Our state partners will pick up the slack. We always have each other’s backs, but when you come in and see all those dead fish in the bottom it looks bad,” Taylor said.
Dan Chapman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the problem could have been much worse. The fish killed were only a fraction of those at the hatchery, and a tree branch got stuck in the water supply gate, allowing some water to continue flowing through, he said.
A volunteer who lives on the property made his rounds at about 2 a.m. and everything appeared normal, according to Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby. When employees arrived later that morning, they noticed the valve located along Rock Creek Road had been turned off and the fish had died.
The hatchery is on federal property, making the offense a federal crime. The Fannin County Sheriff’s Department is investigating, and Taylor expects the state to prosecute and try to recoup its losses if someone is convicted. However, the sheriff said there are no leads.
“We don’t have anywhere to go with it, honestly,” Kirby said. “We just don’t know what happened: if it was kids that were playing, messing with it and got the handle down and couldn’t get it back up or what happened. We may not ever know. Someone coming forward and talking may be the only way for us to know.”
The fish were kept outside in 12 flow-through systems, called raceways. The raceways are outside of the main fence surrounding the property in a separate, fenced-in area with a gate. However, the gate was not locked on the morning of the incident.
“It wasn’t locked this time, but I’ve been here 19 years and never had anything like this,” Taylor said.
The 150-member Friends of Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery group has been in contact with Taylor to see how it can assist. Members are planning to contribute money toward a reward for anyone who comes forward with information.
“I was a hatchery manager for 20-plus years, and you worry something like this could happen,” Friends group president Roger Schulz said. “There’s a lot of things when you have water running that could create problems. There’s only so much you can do, but we don’t have 24-hour security, so you try to do the best you can.”
Call the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office at 706-632-2044 with any information about the fish kill.