MARQUETTE - He's like any proud father, though James Aho's "children" are thousands-upon-thousands of lake trout, brook trout and splake.
"I'm most proud of the quality of fish we put out," the fisheries biologist for the Marquette State Fish Hatchery said. "We, as a crew and a state agency, are putting out some very high-quality fish."
Sitting on 10 acres and fed by Cherry Creek, the hatchery opened in 1922, saw a $6 million renovation in 1994 and other improvements made in 2002.
Marquette State Fish Hatchery biologist James Aho holds one of the lake trout brood stock housed at the Marquette State Fish Hatchery fed by Cherry Creek. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
It's the primary broodstock and rearing facility for brook and lake trout used in both Michigan inland and Great Lakes waters. It also is a rearing facility for splake - a cross between brook trout and lake trout - for similar state waterways.
Cherry Creek, Aho said, is a "unique" watershed for the hatchery.
"A United States Geological Survey said Cherry Creek is one of the most stable flows of both water volume and temperature," Aho, 47, said.
We, as a crew and a state agency, are putting out some very high-quality fish.
- JAMES AHO, fisheries biologist
Marquette Fish Hatchery
"We get 9,000 gallons of water a minute and in the summer, it runs a consistent 10 degrees Celsius - or about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
"In the winter, it rarely gets below 33.8 F. But if it does, the ice always melts in a few days," he added.
In the driest summers or the coldest winters, the creek has been a constant water source as part of the Sands Plains aquifer, he said.
The hatchery contains 41 raceways - or rearing receptacles - in which the fish are kept. There are 27 raceways outside, each 100 cubic meters in size capable of holding 26,417 gallons of water; the 14 inside hold 1,850 gallons.
"We use an awful lot of water," Aho said, with daily usage ranging between 11.7 and 12.2 million gallons.
Water in the inside tanks is replaced three times per hour. For the outside tanks, it's "usually" 2 times.
Should there be a power outage, a diesel generator is on hand and the facility has a 24-hour on-call service.
The number of fish in each raceway depend on the strain. Brook trout are more solitary fish, Aho said, and number about 32,000 per 100 cubic meters. Lake trout average about 275,000, while splake number about 85,000.
"We're talking about 846,000 fish a year," Aho said. "I always use the example of there being so many kids in a classroom. We have so many fish per cubic meter."
Raceways 1-11 consist of production - or planting fish; 12-27 consist of brood stock; and the 14 inside raceways contain younger production fish.
Aho said there were 121 fish plants in 90 trips last year to public water locations throughout Michigan.
Plantings are made throughout the Upper Peninsula, as far downstate as Pontiac and southern Lake Michigan, and points in-between like Higgins and Crystal lakes.
Fish are also planted in northern Lake Huron.
"All of our planting locations are listed on the internet, usually within two weeks," Aho said. "Occasionally, an inland lake will be added or dropped due to a reclamation project or treatment program for a lake. But 99 percent of the locations are yearly stockings."
Aho and his crew pays particular attention to the health of the fish in the raceways and those released in state waters.
"We're very conscious of disease introduction or spreading disease into the environment due to our product," he said.
Vaccinations and hydrogen peroxide baths are just two of the treatments used by hatchery staff.
"Enhanced biosecurity measures, along with younger brood fish, reduced densities, vaccinations and cultural changes intended to reduce (fish) stress has provided lasting benefits," Aho said.
The fisheries biologist at the hatchery for 12 years who has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 19, Aho said the hatchery's mission is to "enhance fisheries to increase fishing opportunities for the public."
The success of that effort means more people buy fishing licenses and merchandise, Aho said, which finances the hatchery's yearly budget.
"We've gotten about as good as we can get in the quality of fish we put out and the fishery we've created here," Aho said. "We have a niche out there and just want to continue on."
The hatchery is open to public viewing at no charge from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.
To schedule group tours, or for more information, contact Aho at 906-249-1611, ext. 324.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.