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Weiss: Same work, new facilities at Lanesboro Hatchery

Thanks to a nearly $5 million upgrade, the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery — one of four cold-water hatcheries in the state — has become much more reliable and efficient.

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Troy LeJeune strips eggs from a large rainbow brood stock trout this fall in the Lanesboro Hatchery where a $5 million upgrade was recently completed.
John Weiss / contributed
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LANESBORO — For time untold, cold water has sprung out of a hillside near Lanesboro mostly from deep in the vast, inscrutable geology of the region, so it is steady, even in drought.

Because of that water, the state nearly a century ago bought the land and spring, then built a cold-water fish hatchery. In 1926, the first eggs and milt were stripped from trout to grow fish for stocking.

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Nearly a century later, that spring still flows cold and regularly, and the Department of Natural Resources continued the egg-gathering work this fall, beginning in October and continuing late this month.

What was different in 2022 is that for the first time in several decades, the crew has a new, much improved, main building as well as better water for the fish and better air for them. It took many months and about $5 million but this was the first year that the new facilities were fully used.

Even with the major upgrade, the hatchery won’t be producing more fish because it’s pretty much maxed out now, said Scott Sindelar, supervisor of the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery. What is critical is that the hatchery is now much more reliable, he said.

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Minnesota has four cold water hatcheries: Lanesboro, Crystal Springs near Elba and Peterson in the southeast and Spire Valley near Remer in northern Minnesota. On average, the hatcheries stock 1,443,925 fish a year, from fingerlings to mature ones; the total averages 188,319 pounds, said Paula Phelps, state fish production supervisor.

Trout raised at these hatcheries include brook, brown, lake, rainbow and splake (the cross between brook and lake trout), she said. They supplement streams or lakes that don’t have enough natural reproduction to meet anglers’ needs (those are usually stocked as fingerlings) or have no natural trout at all as well as some larger trout that are meant to be caught and kept, she said. Some of the keeper rainbows are stocked in Foster Arend Park pond in north Rochester as well as in Whitewater State Park. Many streams in the region get some of the brown trout, too.

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Scott Sindelar, supervisor of the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery stands in the new building that was the centerpiece of a $5 million upgrade completed recently. The reddish light is easier on tiny trout.
John Weiss / contributed

Brown trout are ready for stripping first. “It’s always great doing the brown trout” because weather tends to be warmer, said Troy LeJeune, who was one of two taking roe and milt this fall in Lanesboro. Rainbows, on the other hand, which might spawn into late November, aren’t always a lot of fun, he said.

What was also not fun was the old building. “It was in pretty rough shape,” he said. “The infrastructure was failing. The roof was leaking really bad, the pillars in the nursery were beginning to rot.” It was energy inefficient.

He took it in stride. “You get used to it,” he said. “If you’re in a rough situation, it might be alarming but after a while you get used to it and try to work through it.”

Now?

It’s wonderful. The loud spray bars once used to decrease nitrogen are gone. LeJeune feels safer. “It’s a lot nicer that way,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about my health or my hearing … over time, people got hearing aids.”

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This is the spring that has fed cold water into the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery for nearly a century. Behind it is a degassing tower that takes nitrogen and radon out of the water.
John Weiss / contributed

The hatchery was able to keep going last year despite construction, Sindelar said. “The new building houses the egg isolation room, incubation room, nursery, feed room, visitor lobby, conference room, and offices,” he said. “Not in the new building, but associated with the new construction is the degassing tower and much underground plumbing, new electric service, and a back-up generator.”

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The degassing tower was built near the spring and takes radon and nitrogen out of the water, making the water purer for fish and it adds extra oxygen. The air for the workers in the old building was not up to federal standards, he said. Now it is.

The visitor center is much larger and has more exhibits explaining the workings of the hatchery and about the fish themselves.

While hatcheries duplicate the work of trout producing young in the wild, it’s a much more complicated procedure.

In the wild, females use their tails to swish out debris over gravel in riffles, making nests called redds. When they are ready, they shoot out a stream of several thousand red eggs into the redd and the alert males quickly fertilize the eggs. That’s it. After that, the eggs are on their own and nearly all don’t make it to become big enough to reproduce.

Let’s let Sindelar explain how it’s done with a huge helping hand from humans: “The egg isolation room is where fertilized eggs come into the building and are disinfected before being transferred to the incubators. Eggs come from our nearby brood stock raceways, where adult fish are spawned, and eggs are fertilized. After disinfection, the eggs are transferred through an indoor pass-through window to our incubation room, where eggs are enumerated (counted), and placed into vertical incubation trays for incubating the sensitive developing eggs. When the eggs have reached the eye-up stage (eye spots are visible in the embryo), the eggs are transferred to the nursery. The nursery is used for hatching eyed-eggs, first-feeding, and to grow fish up to the fingerling stage.”

Trout eventually are taken to outdoors feeding pools where they eat and swim and eat and grow until the size needed for stocking. Each time eggs are stripped, a few fertilized ones are put aside to be raised to become new brood stock.

Not that all the needed upgrades are complete, he said. The concrete building around the spring is nearly a century old; engineers will be coming to see what needs to be done for that, he said. “It has definitely served a very useful life span,” he said.

And not that all four hatcheries are now updated, Phelps said. Peterson, the newest one, is in pretty good shape but the other two definitely need work soon, she said. Crystal Springs would be first in line to get any money, she said. It’s rearing system is from the 1930s or 1940s and it has underground clay pipe that breaks down. “It could literally fail any day,” she said.

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John Weiss has written and reported about Outdoors topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 45 years. He is the author of the book "Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss”

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These are tiny brown trout growing the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery.
John Weiss / contributed

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