Division staff has been proudly raising brook, brown and rainbow trout at the Pequest Trout Hatchery for New Jersey’s anglers to enjoy since 1983. Hatchery staff at this facility takes great pride in raising healthy, quality fish for stocking throughout all of New Jersey’s fishing waters. For more than 30 years, Pequest had been a “disease free” facility. Staff shouldered a tremendous effort implementing strict biosecurity practices to keep this trout hatchery free from pathogens.
Unfortunately last year a bacterial disease common in trout, known as furunculosis, was introduced into the hatchery for the first time. This bacterial disease is commonly found throughout the northeastern United States and in fact many state hatcheries all over the region have had to deal with this disease in trout. Although nothing has changed with the hatchery biosecurity practices, what has changed is the number of predatory birds feeding at this facility. Thirty years ago there were no ospreys, bald eagles, or great blue herons catching trout in the outdoor raceways at this hatchery. Today, as the result of Fish and Wildlife’s endangered species restoration efforts, bald eagles and ospreys have made a tremendous recovery throughout the state. It is now common to see several ospreys—and even one or two eagles—feeding on the trout at Pequest every day. The bacterium that caused the outbreak at Pequest was most likely introduced through one of these predatory birds which are difficult to control in an outdoor environment.
Fortunately Fish and Wildlife has a fish pathologist who is responsible for monitoring the health of hatchery and wild fish, as well as conducting research to better understand disease impacts in marine and freshwater fish in the state. With a fish pathologist on staff, our agency has also seen the development of other critical projects including a marine fish health monitoring program that led to a better understanding of the health of marine fish species. Having such a qualified professional working for the Division of Fish and Wildlife is critical to developing measures to address health risks at the hatchery. Working with other fish health professionals—including the Great Lakes Fish Health Committee—the pathologist ensured that all proper steps were taken at the hatchery and with our stocking program to avoid spread of the disease.
I would like to thank and congratulate all Fish and Wildlife staff involved in dealing with this difficult challenge as they worked around the clock to secure the hatchery from this and future threats. Numerous solutions were implemented at the Pequest hatchery including the euthanization of diseased fish, steam disinfection of the raceways and improved methods to deter birds from entering the facility. Additionally, two major steps taken this year for disease prevention include the start of a vaccination program and also raising predominantly rainbow trout in the facility. Rainbow trout have natural resistance to furunculosis and the rainbows at Pequest have shown this to be true since they were unaffected by the disease outbreak.
Although the 2014 stocking season saw a reduced number of trout released in order to protect both the environment and wild trout populations, we are confident that the state’s trout resources are protected through responsible actions taken to support a healthy trout fishery for years to come. Currently, this hard work has paid off as the Pequest Trout Hatchery is on track for a successful 2015 stocking season with approximately 600,000 beautiful rainbow trout available to release throughout the state.
The future at this facility is very bright, thanks to the hard work of Fish and Wildlife professionals. The annual fish health inspection of the facility was recently completed demonstrating that the fish were found to be free of all diseases of concern, including furunculosis.
Don’t forget, trout season opens April 4, 2015. If I might offer one tip as you prepare for opening day—make sure you bring plenty of salmon eggs for bait, because rainbows love salmon eggs. I hope you have a great time fishing this year and I look forward to seeing you on the water.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.