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Wildlife Agency Adds Services At Hatchery

Emily Jo Wiggins feeds the catfish from a new pier at a pond next to the fish hatchery. Wiggins is the director at the Visitor’s Education Center, which is part of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks operations located just off I-55 at Enid Lake. A new law enforcement office opened earlier this year at the same location. – Photos by David Howell

A drawer full of turkey feathers attests to a unique fact about the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery. The feathers are used to stir the eggs, allowing the fertilization from the sperm. Showing the feathers are Bob Tyler, Ron Garavelli and Charles Silkwood.

Conservation officers Bruce Jenkins from Lafayette County and Bryon Davis from Tallahatchie County were among officers sharing time staffing the new North Mississippi Regional Law Enforcement office recently. Officers rotate from across 31 counties in the top portion of Mississippi to work at the office, which is open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By David Howell

ENID LAKE – When it comes to fishing, some things don’t change. Fred Bright’s five-pound, three-ounce white crappie caught at Enid Lake in 1957 is one example – over five decades and still the biggest in the world.
    But lakes do change and Bright’s world record came at the time when the fishing at Enid Lake was at a high point, five years after the levee was completed and the huge lake started to fill. Typically a lake peaks in seven years and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) tries to rehab and restock many of the much smaller state-owned lakes to provide superior fishing in the state.
    Many of these fry – bass, crappie, bluegill, gator gar and even spoonbill catfish – come from right here in Yalobusha County at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is also the only source to stock walleye in the state, and the walleye are placed in the Tombigbee and tributaries.
    “Everything you catch in Tombigbee are hatchery fish that come from here” retired MDWFP fisheries director Ron Garavelli explains. After working almost four decades with the agency, Garavelli retired last summer and now works as a part-time, contract employee alongside three full-time agency employees at the hatchery.
    Garavelli explained that stocking is an important part of rehabbing lakes, with MDWFP typically rehabbing a lake or two each year.
    “Most of the lakes peak in seven or eight years and start going down. When we can, we just start over, it’s the easiest thing to do, Garavelli explains.
    Stocking is equally important for management of the larger lakes in the state, where a total rehab is not an option, Garavelli added.

A Look At The VEC
    Spawning fish is not the only business at the MDWFP’s offices, located just off I-55 at exit 233. Earlier this year a new law enforcement office opened to serve 31-counties in north Mississippi, alongside the hatchery which includes 16 one-acre production ponds and the Visitor’s Education Center (VEC).
    Bright’s world record crappie mount is on display at the VEC, which also includes a native habitat area, 10,000 gallon aquarium, interactive exhibits, displays, artifacts, fishing rodeo pond, an art gallery celebrating Mississippi’s natural resources. The VEC is the first and only facility of its kind in  Mississippi. It has gained publicity since opening in 2009, with more and more visitors taking the educational tour.
    “We are up from last year, and our guided groups have steadily increased,” reports VEC director Emily Jo Wiggins.
    For many of the kids, Wiggins said “Tim” is a favorite fish in the aquarium. Tim is a freshwater eel that hides under a rock as other fish native to the state swim above, giving visitors a firsthand look at many of the species that can be caught in Enid Lake and other lakes across the state.
    “We are very connected to Enid Lake,” Wiggins explains. The hatchery gets its water and some of the brood fish from Enid Lake. When possible, visitors not only get to tour the VEC but also get to go into the hatchery and see the biologist at work.
    “We have so many school groups, scout groups and other groups coming, we have tried to provide more education,” Wiggins added, pointing to a variety of exhibits connected to Enid Lake, fishing and fish biology.
    The school groups are coming from as far as south Mississippi and have steadily increased.
    “The first year we had 25 guided groups, last year we had 48,” Wiggins said.
    Wiggins and her staff also sells hunting and fishing licenses from the center.
Law Enforcement Center
    While a tour of the VEC offers unique insight to the state’s resources, the new North Regional Law Enforcement Office serves as the hub for the conservation officers charged with protecting these resources.
    “Our office caters to the general public for anything dealing with law enforcement issues and hunter’s education,” explains MWDFP Major Jerry Carter. Information about the agency operated parks and wildlife management areas is also available at the regional office.
    The office is open to the public Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Officers from across the top half of the state help staff the facility on a rotating basis. Among services offered at the office are boat inspections as well as permits for taxidermists, quail breeding licenses, field trial permits and dog trial permits.
    Carter added that the MDWFP’s conservation officers share a passion for the outdoors. “We take a lot of pride in our jobs, we help try to balance nature.”
    And with that balancing act comes a responsibility to protect the state’s resources for the next generation, some of the same youngsters who gaze in awe at the world record crappie at the VEC.
    “You would not believe how many people, young and young-at-heart that have vowed to break the record,” Wiggins said, after seeing the mammoth fish mount on display.
    “One nine-year boy swore he was gonna catch one five pounds, four ounces. He hasn’t been back with that record, yet…” Wiggins added.

Fun Facts From The Hatchery

    • In addition to the exhibits and displays at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery Visitor Education Center (VEC), the staff also sells fishing and hunting licenses.
     • The VEC sponsors Camp Fish in the summer, where youth enjoy a four day, day-camp learning about fish. During the camp, participants get to become fisheries biologist, experiencing first-hand the daily activities at the center.
    • A hybrid crappie known as the Magnolia Crappie is spawned at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery. The fish doesn’t reproduce and is stocked in smaller, state-operated lakes where an ordinary crappie would quickly over-populate. The brood stock for the Magnolia Crappie Program originally came from black-nose crappie in Grenada Lake.  Now about 70 to 80 percent of the Magnolia Crappie have a dark stripe on their nose that resembles a line made with a black magic marker, making them easily identifiable.
    • The largest Magnolia Crappie on record, so far, is a 3.5 pounder caught in Bolivar County.
    • Partnering with a Mississippi State University graduate student this fall, biologists will manipulate the water temperature and the length of day to mimic spring spawning conditions for crappie. If successful, the fall hatch could be released next spring and have a lower mortality rate than crappie spawned in the spring.
    • When you purchase your favorite fishing lure you are helping support the hatchery and many other outdoor projects across the state. Known as the Sport Fish Restoration Program (Dingell-Johnson Act), excise taxes placed on fishing tackle is collected in a trust fund in Washington D.C. This money is available for sport fish management activities. Mississippi has received about $100,000,000 from the program since 1950.
    • The hatchery is also funded through hunting and fishing license sales in Mississippi. This means anglers and hunters who benefit from the management resource help fund it.

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