The Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery is in the process of getting a facelift — the first in more than 50 years.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Region fisheries supervisor Tim Barrett, there have been no improvements to the facility as a whole since the hatchery was first built in the 1960s.
The renovations will restore the ponds that have been eroded over time, he said, while also improving day-to-day operations.
“All ponds require a certain amount of maintenance, but it’s been 50 years or more since we did any maintenance to the whole place. So it’s high time,” Barrett said.
One improvement will bring in clay to line each pond to help with erosion. Barrett explained that as each crop of fish is harvested, the ponds are drained and then refilled, which erodes the banks and the shape of the ponds. So new dirt must added.
“The banks have been eroded and they are adding back dirt, but it will be better dirt that will hold up through all of those drainings,” Barrett said.
Other improvements include new walkways. The old walkways at the hatchery were made of wood and had nearly fallen apart, Barrett said. The new walkways, however, will be made of concrete and will be a lot sturdier.
Along with walkways, new gate valves will be installed at each pond to make drainage more efficient. Each pond will also receive new electrical and plumbing work that will help “big time” with hatchery operations, Barrett said.
“We’re aiming for this (renovations) to last us another 50 years,” he said.
Also during construction, some of the ponds will be combined and the total number of ponds will decrease, Barrett said.
“We will now have 31 production ponds and three kids fishing ponds,” he said.
Barrett said a set of 14 small ponds near the new Kroger will be combined into seven ponds. The dikes between those ponds were so eroded that combining the ponds made everyday operation easier for the hatchery staff, he said.
Construction began on the ponds in November, and the hatchery is “shooting for April” for a completion date, Barrett said. Some of the improvements should be finished in time for the hatchery to raise a spring crop of striped bass and hybrid striped bass, he said.
In addition to striped bass and hybrid striped bass, the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery also raises catfish, bluegill, sunfish and others.
Barrett noted the hatchery will still host its annual kids fishing event at the beginning of June. After that, the hatchery will be open during business hours this summer for kids to come out and fish.