By John Howell
ENID LAKE – Though not open to the public, the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery at Enid Dam has already produced crops of bass, triploid crappie, walleye and triploid grass carp this year.
Now, hatchery manager Justin Wilkens and his staff are breeding flathead catfish.
The fish hatchery, built between the Enid outlet channel and its emergency spillway channel near Interstate 55, is fulfilling its primary mission of replenishing gamefish populations in north Mississippi waters plus the added responsibility of helping to rebuild stocks of fish lost from Hurricane Katrina’s damage.
Five thousand of the flathead catfish will be raised to a length of 12 inches for release near Pascagoula, Wilkens said.
In May, hatchery workers collected flathead brood fish, “electro-fishing” the Enid spillway, Wilkens said.
Also, “several conservation-minded hand grabbers donated flathead spawns and broodfish that were collected from their boxes,” the hatchery manager added. “We appreciate their efforts.”
The brood fish were paired by sex and allowed to spawn. The females laid their eggs — a “geletanous mass,” the hatchery manager said. The mass was collected and treated with a substance to separate the eggs which were then placed into jars and rotated to keep them surrounded with fresh water.
Hatching occurred during a three to six-day span, yielding a tiny — one-fourth-inch long, “big compared to bass, crappie or walleyes,” Wilkens said — fish that was merely a tale attached to a yolk sac, he added.
While the tiny fish were nourished by the attached yolk sac, its mouth developed and the small creature turned from white to pink to black “with big heads,” and commensurate appetite.
Growing the flathead fingerlings to 12 inches will take all fall and winter, Wilkens said. Another batch will be delivered to the Sunflower River when the fingerlings are between one and three inches.
Water for the hatchery comes from ground sources and from Enid Lake, the hatchery manager said. Water in a four-acre settling pond at the north end of the hatchery’s 13 ponds appears muddy but is actually discolored by iron, Wilkens said. After passing through a big sand filter, most of the iron is removed.
Water from Enid Lake is strained so finely before it is allowed to enter the hatchery that particles as small as fish eggs are removed, Wilkens continued.
“Over the next several years, we’re going to be delivering a lot of largemouth bass to the Delta,” Wilkens said.
Triploid crappie have been delivered to LeRoy Percy State Park, blue gill and red ear bream have been raised to feed other brood fish, and the walleye raised to date will serve as brood fish which will yield subsequent generations for stocking in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
Opening the public portion of the hatchery with its visitors’ center and aquarium may happen this fall, Wilkens said.
Completion of the exhibit areas was postponed when rising hatchery construction costs consumed the budget that had been allowed for the total project.
Late last year, Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Director Dr. Sam Pollis met with local business people and civic leaders from Yalobusha and Panola counties seeking sponsors to help with completion.
Bob Tyler of Water Valley, President of the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Foundation, said that the effort to equip the visitors’ center is ongoing. Money and in-kind donations are needed, Tyler said.
MDWFP is also looking for a business person to operate the gift shop to be located in the visitors’ center, Tyler said.
“We want Mississippi-made products … that would represent Mississippi and out-of-doors,” he added.
Visitors will be attracted to the hatchery area with signs along Interstate 55. The visitors’ center is 5,000 square feet and will provide a positive outreach to anglers and the general public regarding natural resources and MDWFP management practices. A 10,000 gallon aquarium will feature native Mississippi fish in a natural habitat setting. There is also be a pond for anglers to catch and release while visiting the center.
Polles said last November that the the visitor’s center would be comparable to the Mississippi museum of Natural Science, although on a smaller scale.