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Avoca Fish Hatchery Is Closing

Last updated on Wednesday, April 3, 2013

(BEDFORD) - After nearly 100 years of raising fish to stock Indiana waters, the Avoca Fish Hatchery is nearing the end of its productive life.

Carol Johnson of the Times-Mail reports that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has initiated the process of decommissioning the hatchery. Six staff members have been transferred to a DNR office in Bloomington. Robin Bruegmann, assistant property manager, and a seasonal laborer are the last remaining employees.

"Like a lot of other old facilities, Avoca is wearing out and is worn out," said Bill James, DNR chief of fisheries. "It is no longer cost effective. We've put a lot of money into maintaining it, but it's time."

James cited a lack of room to expand, aging buildings and a limited water supply as other factors in the decision.

Decommissioning is not an overnight process. James estimated it will not be complete until 2015 or 2016. The first step of the process was to transfer the supervisor, biologists and their assistants to another office. Next, said James, is finding a hatchery that can increase its fish production to absorb the loss of Avoca. Once the fish are gone, Bruegmann will be transferred to another fishery.

The final and most difficult part of the process is finding a receiver for the property. In counties that have a county park board, that is one of the first logical entities to receive the property. But Lawrence County does not have a county park board.

Because maintaining the hatchery grounds and the house and building will require maintenance costs, James said the receiver needs to be prepared for the expense.

Avoca has a rich and unique history worth preserving, said James, and also is a community resource for recreation. A hatchery since the 1920s, it has raised a variety of fish, keeping the public waterways well stocked. The hatchery raises bluegill, redear, crappie and trout. In a normal year, the hatchery will produce between 500,000 to 1 million fish, according to the DNR website.

The 13 ponds are earthen, not concrete, which has become the norm in more modern hatcheries. The ponds are fed by a natural spring just above the service building. Grass levees circle each pond and a gravel path, popular with walkers, winds around the ponds.

Atop a bluff is a stone overlook, which gives hikers a view of the hatchery and beyond.
The natural features of the hatchery grounds make it a local gem, but without room to expand, the Avoca hatchery lags behind the others in the state in terms of modern practices.

DNR purchased the property in 1919-1924 from Hayden Bridwell. Pond construction began in 1923. The service building behind the residence was built in 1924.

Counting Avoca, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has eight fish production facilities. James said the DNR does not rush into closing its hatcheries. In his 40 years with DNR, just four other hatcheries have been decommissioned.

A hatchery in Starke County is now maintained by Purdue University, which plans to use it as an outdoor lab.

In Whitley County, the county park board took over Tri-Lakes Hatchery, but eventually returned it to DNR when it could no longer maintain it.

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