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Netting to deter herons from hatchery fish

Thursday, November 11, 2004

NETTING: Employees of Cowart Construction Company of Salem, Ark, put a net around the production area at the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish hatchery.
Staff Writer

MAMMOTH SPRING -- A project to keep the great blue heron out of the silos at the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery began last week.

According to hatchery manager Melissa Jones, netting is being constructed around the production area of the hatchery. Jones said Cowart Construction Company of Salem, Ark., is doing the work. Project Superintendent Steve Bowels said the work will consist of setting 34 poles and hanging the netting around most of the hatchery. Jones said the cost of the project is approximately $75,000.

"This is a very confined space and is known to the birds as a place where a great quantity of food can be found. These great blue heron reside in this portion of the state year round and have always been a problem for us at the Dam 3 site," Jones said.

She said that all hatcheries have problems with birds. "Down in southern Arkansas, at the warm water hatcheries they have problems with cormorant birds," she said.

The hatchery, located just south of Mammoth Spring off Highway 63, has raceways or silos where rainbow trout are raised. The trout are stocked in public waters. "We raise over 1 million fish a year. They are mainly stocked in the White River, Spring River and the Little Red River at Greers Ferry. In the winter months we stock urban fishing programs in northwest Arkansas and other areas such as Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Cabot, and in southern Arkansas at Hot Springs and Mena," the hatchery manager said.

"We have tried forever to eliminate the problems the herons have created at Dam 3. We have tried several different designs to cover the silos, and at present we pretty well have the problem under control except the covers are not user friendly to the staff at the hatchery," Jones said. She said the silo covers they are using now are heavy and it is time consuming for hatchery workers when they feed the fish or clean the silos.

With recent hatchery renovations the idea of the side and overhead netting was discussed and officials decided to give it a try.

"We hope we have used a large enough size net that ice and snow will not harm it This is the same netting used at the National Fish Hatchery at Norfork and it works there," she said.

Jones said approximately 13,500 rainbow trout are stocked in each of the 47 silos at the hatchery. She said the fish stay in a silo about six months. "Before trying any type of method to keep the birds out, we could lose up to 75 percent of the fish in the silo. It would be nothing for us to come to work and find 50, 75 or 100 dead fish every day," Jones said.

Bowels said the project has been going pretty smoothly for his crew. "The netting came in a box of three pieces for the top. It is 60 feet wide and 580 feet long. The sides of the netting will hook to the fence around the hatchery and are 25 feet tall," the project superintendent said. He said the ponds at the hatchery will not be covered. Bowels' crew consists of local men Rick Cowart, Scott Hoover, Jamie Sisk and Ed Smith, along with Bill McReynolds from Bradford, Ark.

Jones said the great blue heron is a federally protected species and when an animal is placed on the federally protected list it cannot be harmed. She said the plan is for the netting to completely detour the birds away from the silos.

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