Trout Talk, Forest Ranger Sexism, and Pony Parties

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The alleged “hatchery”

Have you ever been to a fish hatchery? I had heard the words before, and knew these things existed, but had no idea how or why. For my Conservation Badge, one of the requirements was to visit a fish hatchery and to learn what your state and Federal government do to protect and increase fish in your state. Our trip to the Fillmore Fish Hatchery in Ventura County helped shed some light on the subject. Shawnté and I read some Yelp reviews of this place, talking about how feeding the fish at the hatchery was a great, cheap activity for kids. I didn’t even know hatcheries were open to the public! Sure enough, we got there and it was 10 cents to get some fish food to feed these frisky trout. The water moves like a stream towards a river outside of the hatchery. The trout swim up it, constantly. I later found out that they have to keep the levels in the tanks around 30 inches, otherwise it’s too shallow. Their best conditions for growing are if they feel like they’re in a stream, swimming up it. An exhausting existence, but they love it. Some of the food ends up escaping through the pipes and floats outside of the ‘gates’ so to speak. There are a ton of huge fish that have escaped from the hatchery that hover near the pipe waiting for it to come out. Free from trout prison, but they stick around, sort of looking like they’re trying to get back in, surrounded by a ton of birds. It’s like a ‘Brooks Was Here‘ moment from Shawshank Redemption.

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Stefan, who has worked at the hatchery since 1996, was kind enough to answer some questions for us. We watched him ride back and forth in this little go-kart with a pipe coming out of it that shot fish food into the water. The fish went nuts for it. After he parked his feeding golf cart under the food dispenser, I shouted out to him through the gate, asking him if I could take some photos and ask him some questions.

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Stefan in his fish pellet golf cart

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Giant fish food dispensary

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Feeding Frenzy

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Stefan and I

At first he thought I was asking the 3 questions he gets asked most:

1.) Do you have any change? 2.) Can I have some free food? or 3.) Do you eat fish for every meal?

One of my first question was, why do fish hatcheries exist? I wasn’t quite clear. Turns out they’re supported and funded by fisherman (partially what your $ for a fishing license goes towards), and handled by the Department of Fish and Game. In plain terms, you put in what you take out. They raise the fish at the hatcheries, and ‘plant’ them in lakes all over the area. There’s even something called ‘planting season,’ which varies depending on what elevation you’re at. For a little bit of ‘hatchery history,’ Mount Shasta is the oldest fish hatchery in the US. It’s over 100 years old. The historic Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery looks like a neat place to visit too. The kind of trout they have at the Fillmore hatchery are brown trout and rainbow trout. Their food, the little brown pellets we threw into the water and shot out of the golf cart, are made out of fish meal fortified with vitamins. (I totally called it. They feed fish to each other! Cannibalism. Happens with so much animal feed). Some popular brands are Purina, Rangen and Silver Cup.

Stefan and the other employees at the hatchery feed them six times a week, alternating one month per duty, and they live on the property. Some of them drive the trucks with the stock to the lakes, transporting the fish from late fall to spring every day of the week Monday to Friday to lakes in the are, some keep the tanks clean, some salt the fish. The salt treats the fish when they re-clean the water with potassium.  It helps clear out their gills like a salt gargle. They also help maintain the condition of the hatchery. 30% of the fish eggs used to be taken by birds, but they’ve had netting in since 1979, though last year the whole top blew off and they had to redo the whole thing.

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After our lovely conversation with Stefan, we ended up trying to find a ranger station, to fill another requirement, but no one was there.

8. Visit a forest station; find out what the forest ranger does and how you can help him.

HIM. Hahahahaha. Thanks, 1947 Girl Scouts. I guess I won’t be helping anyone for the time being regardless.

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Then we stopped by Hansen Dam, where a bunch of people were having a weird pony party. There were helicopters above everyone trying to break it up.

10. Visit a dam, and find out why it was placed there and its usefulness for conservation, power and recreation.

Hansen Dam is a flood control dam in the northeastern San Fernando Valley. It was built by the US Army in 1940.Named after horse ranchers Homer and Marie Hansen, who established a ranch in the 19th century, it’s located in the flood control basin and surrounding slopes behind the dam. It’s got all sorts of fun activities like kayaking, fishing (check out their trout stocking schedule), polar bear dip (haha LA) and more. 20140119_152134 20140119_152232 20140119_152138

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