Natural factors causing trout die-off at Shepherd of the Hills

News from the region
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An unfortunate combination of late-autumn water conditions has caused a die-off of trout at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery.

This fish loss is a result of a combination of current environmental conditions that include warm water, low oxygen, high nitrogen, high sulfur levels and excess nutrient content. Hatchery staff will not know the full impact of trout loss for some time as some fish may experience delayed mortality from the stress they experienced at this time. Mortality has occurred in all sizes of fish at the hatchery. Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, located in Taney County, is Missouri’s largest trout hatchery. It produces more than 1.2 million trout annually which are stocked into Lake Taneycomo and other trout areas around the state.

Much of the above-mentioned environmental conditions can be traced to the heavy rains, hot temperatures and algae die-off that depleted water quality and caused fish die-off problems at Table Rock Lake this past summer. Shepherd of the Hills receives its water from Table Rock.

Fortunately, quick action by MDC hatchery staff is resulting in the bulk of Shepherd’s trout population being saved. Some are being moved to other raceways at the hatchery where the water quality is better; other trout are being temporarily transported to Bennett Spring Hatchery, Montauk Hatchery and Lost Valley Hatchery.

The primary cure to Shepherd’s problems will occur when cold weather arrives.

“The faster it gets colder, the sooner the water temperature at the surface (of Table Rock) will equal the water temperature at the bottom (of the lake) and allow the lake to mix,” said MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Shane Bush, who oversees fish management at Table Rock and Taneycomo reservoirs. “This will bring better water quality through the dam. This may happen as soon as this weekend with cold temperatures expected.”

The hatchery’s Conservation Center remains open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but trout viewing opportunities along the raceway have been temporarily closed to the public.

More information can be obtained by calling the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery Conservation Center, 417-334-4865 or the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Regional Office in Springfield, 417-895-6880.