By Troy Treasure
This is no fish tale. If you’ve ever cast a line in public bodies of water out of the local area but still in Missouri, there’s a chance if your catch included channel catfish it was raised next door.
With its 24 production ponds, the Department of Conservation’s Hunnewell Fish Hatchery at Hunnewell Lake is an important state-wide stocking source. On average, the facility raises approximately 80,000 eight-to-12 inch channel catfish annually.
Hatchery Manager Kurt Hentschke will reach his tenth year at Hunnewell in July. Hentschke indicated the fish are spawned and the eggs collected at the MDC’s Chesapeake Hatchery at Mount Vernon in southwest Missouri.
At an inch in length, the fish make a road trip in a one-ton truck with eight 85-gallon tanks.
“We usually pick those fish up around Memorial Day each year and set those fish in our ponds, about 12,000 fish per acre; we do about eight acres of those,” Hentschke said. “Then the eight-to-12 inch fish are harvested the first week of October every year.
“The catfish program is divided up between two of our hatcheries,” he continued. “Hunnewell raises half, Chesapeake raises the other half.”
Once a fish reaches advanced fingerling status, its destination might be any of approximately 275 locations.
Hunnewell Lake is the sole water source for the hatchery. For that reason, use of live bait for fishing there is banned to prevent spread of harmful species, particularly zebra mussels. Private boats are also prohibited. MDC provides 20 jon boats for visitors but does not allow use of gasoline-outboard motors on the lake.
“The bait-bucket restrictions, it’s not the minnows we’re worried about, it’s the water they are in. If we introduce an invasive species; that not only goes to the hatchery but into the trucks that haul the fish all over the state,” Hentschke said. “There is a tank treatment that we are required to do for all of the fish we move. That will stop the larval stage of a zebra mussel if it is there.
“Now, we know we don’t have zebra mussels in the lake,” Hentschke added. “We set up, basically, test cards out there where they would grow on. We set those out every year as a monitoring effort.”
When asked what he considered the most fascinating aspects of his job, Hentschke paused and chuckled.
“Basically, everything at the hatchery,” he said. “We’re privileged enough that we can raise several different species. We raise channel catfish, also blue catfish which we actually spawn on site. We’ll stock about 10,000 six-inch sunfish every year for kids fishing clinics. This year, we’re going to raise a little bit of walleye. We’ve raised paddlefish in the past.”
Overall, Hentschke has been with MDC for 14 years. A native of Sullivan, Missouri, he graduated from the University of Missouri in 2004 with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Management.
Hentschke concluded by saying the hatchery looks forward to work orders coming in and doing its best at raising whatever species it needs to in any given year.