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Corning fish hatchery

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A $3 million renovation project has been completed at the William B. Donham Fish Hatchery at Corning, providing a major boost to the production of fish for stocking in public waters in northeast Arkansas.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hatchery is one of four warm water state facilities in the state and is the newest one, at least in terms of AGFC's management.

The Donham hatchery was obtained from the federal government in 1983, with a transfer of ownership in 1995.

The hatchery, though, was built in 1938, one of many small fish hatcheries across the nation put into operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Times changed, though. Directions for wildlife and fish work shifted for the federal agency, and in the 1970s and 1980s, the FWS disposed of many of its hatcheries, especially small ones like the Corning facility.

When the hatchery was offered to AGFC, it was quickly accepted, although there was the stipulation that if AGFC stopped operating it as a hatchery, it would revert to the federal government.

This condition was removed 12 years later with the full transfer of ownership, with Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln helping move the process through federal channels.

The old federal hatchery, built in the Great Depression, is gone now with the renovation, except for the fish-rearing ponds.

In the four-year renovation, a new central building has been erected, with the old buildings removed. A land purchase of 13 acres allowed the building of 10 more fish ponds in addition to the 30 already in operation. The capacity for producing young fish for stocking in various waters has been expanded considerably.

Significant is the installation of specialized equipment at the hatchery to make the growing of fish more efficient as well as improving on health and safety issues. Much of this has stemmed from developments in fisheries science over the 71 years since the original hatchery was built.

The hatchery is named for a former AGFC attorney.

The hatchery produces several species of game fish native to Arkansas -- largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and channel catfish. Grass carp, used for reducing excessive vegetation in lakes and stream, are also produced.

The hatchery, on U.S. Highway 67 at the western edge of Corning, is open to visitors during normal working hours.

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