Striped bass anglers at Smith Mountain Lake are relieved a local hatchery will be operational by Spring, stocking the popular game fish once again.
The Vic Thomas hatchery in Brookneal (Campbell County) is the main hatchery that stocks striped bass at Smith Mountain Lake, and other lakes in the region.
Earlier this year, the hatchery's manager retired which left an opening. Due to statewide budget cuts, a hiring freeze within the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) left that position vacant, along with several other part-time positions and seasonal workers.
Captain Todd Keith, a professional striper fishing guide at Smith Mountain Lake, is anxious to get the hatchery open once again.
"If we don't have the right amount of fish each year, people are going to maintain their killing or harvesting. So it's going to hurt us down the road," says Keith.
During a typical year, 200,000 to 500,000 striped bass are placed in Smith Mountain Lake. The process starts early, that's why it's essential to get all the staff in place.
The hatchery in Brookneal relies on the collection of fish known as broodfish. The broodfish are mature fish used for the production of eggs.
Broodfish are collected over a few weeks in the Spring, then put in the hatchery.
The small fish, produced from the broodfish are then placed in Smith Mountain Lake during the first few weeks of June. They are only around 3 inches in length.
In early February, a request for seasonal workers and hatchery superintendent were approved and job announcements were posted on the state website. David Whitehurst with the Department of Game and Inland fisheries says he hopes to "have the seasonal workers hired soon, so they can be trained to run the hatchery." "The hiring of the full-time hatchery superintendent may take a little longer," says Whitehurst.
Until the Vic Thomas hatchery is open for business, anglers like Todd Keith are urging everyone to be conservative when it comes to taking home striped bass.
"Let's ease back on the harvesting of these fish and take it easy until we know what is going to happen, says Keith."
If the lake isn't stocked this year, anglers may not notice a difference until 2013, when the fish supply is much lower.
However, Whitehurst says if everything goes as anticipated, stripers will be stocked this summer.