Jillian Garrigues

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Video: Hidden Treasures — Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery

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TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – The next time you haul a big fish out of your favorite river or pond, you might be surprised where it came from. It might not be just a catfish or bass. Some of the country’s best fish come right out of Tupelo. Millions leave the Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery every year, traveling to other public waters.

Alligator gar are on the move north and west.

“We sent fish to Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee,” said Fisheries Biologist, Daniel Schwarz.

Around 50,000 baby alligator gar fry — they are called fry — are mailed out in boxes from the Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery. As small fry only several days old, it’s hard to imagine them growing as big as 300 lbs. Alligator gars at the hatchery weigh around 130 pounds. The hatchery has 15 ponds with a variety of fish.

“We work with alligator gar, Gulf Coast walleye, paddlefish, lake sturgeon, and we also work with recreational fish species like large mouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish,” Schwarz said.

The Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery is one of the oldest in the country, founded in 1901. It’s operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fish raised there are stocked in public waters or placed in areas for restoration.

“We work with species of special concern, meaning that throughout their historical range they have either gone down in numbers or completely wiped out. So we find populations of self sustaining species like alligator gar, Gulf Coast walleye and paddlefish and then we reintroduce them to places throughout the United States where they are no longer found,” said Schwarz.

Feed is thrown into the ponds everyday. The fish thrive in warm water, about 75 degrees.

“During the spring, summer and fall months we feed them everyday. During the winter we can cut back because in cooler water temperatures their metabolism is much slower and they don’t need to be fed everyday,” Schwarz said.

The hatchery is also open to tour groups, including schools, and offers children fishing rodeos. It is located at 111 Elizabeth Street in Tupelo. Visit http://www.fws.gov/pvtjohnallen/, or call 662-842-1341 for more information.