Missouri Hatcheries: Growing Success

By Chris Vitello and James Civiello | October 18, 2010
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2010

Fishing is fun. It’s also big business in Missouri. Nearly 1.2 million anglers fish in Missouri waters each year. About one in 10 Missourians, between the ages of 16 and 64, enjoy fishing opportunities each year. Missouri anglers fish approximately 16 million days annually and account for a substantial portion of the $11 billion-a-year business resulting from conservation-related activities.

For the Department of Conservation, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Missouri fishing accounts for the efforts of more than 160 biologists, hatchery managers and support staff. Our biologists use all of the tools at their disposal to meet the demands and needs of Missouri anglers—good habitat management, science-based regulations, public input and, where appropriate, the fish produced in Department hatcheries.

Enhancing Natural Production

For many fish species, natural reproduction is enough to support high-quality fisheries. As long as habitat is adequate, most of our native fish sustain their numbers from year to year, with some natural fluctuations. Good natural reproduction and science-based management, including appropriate regulations, provide quality fishing opportunities. Crappie and black bass fisheries in large reservoirs, and smallmouth bass and goggle-eye fisheries in streams, demonstrate this concept.

Some Missouri rainbow trout fisheries are supported solely by natural reproduction. Crane Creek in Stone County is an example. On the other hand, reproduction and recruitment is limited for some fish species. Supplemental stocking is needed to support paddlefish fisheries in locations such as Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake. Others, like the spring-fed streams at Bennett Spring, Maramec Spring, Montauk and Roaring River trout parks, receive very heavy fishing pressure and require daily stocking to maintain fishing quality.

Hatcheries are an integral part of the Department’s stream and lake management programs. They have been instrumental in establishing and maintaining many popular sport fisheries. Over a span of nearly 75 years, biologists and hatchery personnel have evaluated, cultured and stocked a variety of sport fish that include walleye, muskie, brown trout and hybrid striped bass. Stocking these fish has enhanced the diversity of fishing opportunities and made Missouri fishing a richer experience.

During 2009, Department staff stocked almost 8.5 million warm-water fish and nearly 1.6 million rainbow and brown trout at locations throughout Missouri. A variety of species of conservation concern, including various mussel species, Ozark and Eastern hellbenders and pallid sturgeon, were also raised in Department hatcheries. Hatchery production and stocking of these species are integral parts of ongoing species recovery efforts.

Innovation and Value

Department of Conservation hatcheries are operated with the overriding mission of serving the public with a quality product in an efficient manner. Commitments to cost-containment, research, innovation and fish health are critical components of the Department’s hatchery program. Fish are typically produced in Department hatcheries at costs well below the cost of purchasing fish from commercial sources. However, fish are purchased in limited quantities in a few cases where fish are available commercially at a lower cost than they can be produced in a Department facility.

Department staff has a long history of hatchery innovation with new efforts currently underway. Department personnel are on the cutting edge of fish culture and hatchery operations. From developing spawning and rearing techniques for pallid sturgeon, to examining strains of rainbow trout to enhance hatchery performance, survival and growth after stocking, developing and enhancing fish culture techniques is a real and growing strength of the Department’s hatchery system.

Department hatcheries are also setting the standard in efforts to ensure fish health and to limit the spread of fish diseases and invasive species. Facilities and equipment are cleaned and maintained to exacting standards and protocols. Water used in fish culture is filtered and treated to remove invasive organisms such as zebra mussels and prevent their spread. New protocols and procedures are shared with Missouri’s commercial hatchery operators to assist them in efforts to maintain fish health and control invasive species.

A Strong Angling Future

The future is bright and promising. Using state dollars to match Sport Fish Restoration Act funds generated through the purchase of fishing and boating equipment by anglers and other citizens, aging Department hatcheries are undergoing a series of improvements and updates. Federal Sport Fish Restoration Act funds cover up to 75 percent of construction costs and are also used to fund hatchery staffing and operations costs, lake and stream management efforts and access development statewide. The purchase of daily trout tags and annual trout permits covers much of the year-to-year cost of raising trout.

As anglers and biologists look to the future, recent and ongoing hatchery enhancements will help to ensure that stocking continues to serve as an important tool in the management of fish populations. Department hatcheries will provide the proper numbers and sizes of the selected fish species needed to establish balanced fisheries, to supplement recruitment where fishing pressure is highest, to maintain high-quality fisheries for species such as paddlefish where natural reproduction and recruitment is limited and to aid in the restoration of rare, threatened and endangered species.


During the 1960s and ‘70s, Department hatcheries developed techniques that resulted in the first significant hatchery production of paddlefish, Polyodon spathula. These efforts were driven by the loss of natural spawning areas in Missouri. The successful introduction of hatchery-produced paddlefish into Table Rock Lake and the Osage River system helped to establish and maintain popular paddlefish fisheries and were followed by stocking in the Black River below Clearwater Lake.

Today, Department hatcheries are among the world’s largest producers of paddlefish. Eggs and sperm from wild-caught fish are used to produce fry and fingerling fish in the spring. The resulting fish are typically 10 to 13 inches long and are ready for stocking by early fall.

More than 260,000 paddlefish were produced by Department hatcheries in 2008. These stockings are maintaining excellent fishing for one of the largest, most ancient and unique of all freshwater fish, and each spring anglers come from across the country to catch paddlefish that can weigh in at more than 150 pounds.


Cold-water hatcheries at Bennett Spring near Lebanon; Maramec Spring near St. James; Montauk near Licking; Roaring River near Cassville; and Shepherd of the Hills near Branson produce 10- to 12-inch rainbow and brown trout. The majority of the fish produced in these facilities are used to support popular fisheries in the four trout parks and Lake Taneycomo. Additional trout are stocked less frequently and in smaller numbers to provide enhanced fishing opportunities in several spring-fed streams across southern Missouri. Trout are also stocked in select small impoundments in major population centers to provide close-to-home fishing opportunities during the winter.

1,000 Days of Care

by James Civiello

In October 2007, I received a call from our state herpetologist, Jeff Briggler, who found a fertilized clutch of hellbender eggs in one of our Ozark streams. There were more than 400 developing embryos in this clutch. I was concerned about how to care for the eggs. There were very few references for the questions I had about how to incubate, hatch and raise hellbenders. I decided that because hellbenders (the largest amphibian in North America) behave much like a fish in terms of habitat requirements and external fertilization of the eggs, I would care for the eggs exactly as I have cared for trout eggs over the past 20 years.

Well, the plan worked. After about 20 days of incubation and care, more than 90 percent of the clutch hatched. The next challenge was to find out what I could feed these larval hellbenders and how I could get a reliable supply of food to feed more than 300 mouths. Aquatic invertebrates, plentiful in the outfalls of Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, were the answer. I was thrilled when the first young hellbenders consumed the small invertebrates. Now, after diversifying their diet with a variety of worms, crayfish and freeze-dried krill, the hellbenders are large enough to accept a pit tag, injected just under the skin in the tail area

In July, after exactly 1,000 days of care, the Conservation Department made its first release of juvenile Eastern hellbenders into the wild that were cultured in a state fish hatchery. Only 100 of them were tagged and released to provide space in the limited tanks available to grow hellbenders at the hatchery. The 100 juveniles released doubled the estimated Eastern hellbender population in the Ozark stream. The hellbenders averaged 9.5" in total length and weighed a little more than 3 ounces. These animals will continue to be monitored. Finding the small individuals is a challenge, but we hope to learn much about their survival, behavior and distribution over the next few years. This release compliments the Ozark hellbender captive breeding, propagation and release work accomplished at the St Louis Zoo over the past 15 years.

Tour a Hatchery

Two of our most popular hatchery destinations are Shepherd of the Hills and Lost Valley fish hatcheries. Take a free tour to learn more about Missouri fisheries and see how a modern hatchery functions first-hand.

Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery

Shepherd of the Hills is the largest trout production facility in the Department of Conservation’s trout production program. The primary role for this facility is the production of rainbow and brown trout. The hatchery boasts a Conservation Center that receives 250,000 visitors annually and provides a vast amount of information to the public with a focus on fisheries.

Area Hours: September–June: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Memorial Day–Labor Day: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Directions: The hatchery and conservation center are located on Highway 165 just south of Branson, below the dam at Table Rock Lake.

Tours: Guided hatchery tours are provided at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. weekdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During the remainder of the year, self-guided tours are available.

Website: MissouriConservation.org/node/290

Phone: 417-334-4865

Lost Valley Hatchery

Lost Valley Hatchery is the largest warm-water state-owned hatchery in Missouri and one of the 10 largest in the nation. The hatchery building houses a 2,000-square-foot visitor center with a 12,700-gallon aquarium. Fish species being raised at the hatchery include walleye, muskellunge, channel catfish, largemouth bass, striped and hybrid striped bass, bluegill and hybrid sunfish.

Area Hours: 9 a.m.–4p.m. Tuesday–Saturday, year-round.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Directions: Lost Valley Fish Hatchery and Visitor Center is located east of Highway 65 at the Truman Dam access road on County Road 620 just northeast of Warsaw.

Website: MissouriConservation.org/node/284.

Phone: 660-438-4465

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler