Fisheries Management at Otter Slough Conservation Area
Today our first stop was at a wetland conservation area are called Otter Slough. Otter Slough is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. It contains over 2700 acres of flooded groundwater that is inhabited by a variety of fish and wetland birds. Each pond on the property acts like its own ecosystem with different biodiversity’s. This is beneficial as different species of fish can live within the different ecosystems. Most of this wetland area at one time was drained for agricultural use but has since been reclaimed by the government for the conservation initiative of fish species. There are many benefits of this conservation area in terms of the preservation of endangered species as well as providing space for recreational activities for the general public.
The mission of the conservation area is to serve and protect the forest, fish and wildlife resources of the state. To aid in this mission there are 9 states run hatcheries; 5 of which are cold-water specific species and 4 warm water specific species. These hatcheries are used to try and replenish the fish populations in public lakes.
Salvador Mondragon who is the Fisheries Management Biologist explained the entire hatcheries process to us. From how they chose their pond location all the way to how they select which fish species they are going to raise. The selection of fish does not vary too much from year to year, as there are certain species that are stocked there every year. They also have some species that the conservation will get a request to stock. One species that is being grown for the restoration projects is Alligator gar. Most anglers do not like this species but there is a positive role that this species has in improving the environment of the lakes and ponds. Most ponds have low-pressure diffusers or paddlewheel aerators so that when oxygen levels get low they can aid in increasing those levels. Most species are fed 32% protein feed consisting of soybean meal and some fishmeal as well as the occasional shrimp.
Some of the more common hatchery designs are aquariums, round tanks, broodstock tanks, Chesapeake raceways or lost valley raceways. One preventive measure that the conservation authority is taking is that they only grow native fish species outside in ponds and all non native species must be grown inside in a closed loop system which hopefully will prevent wild escapes that could cause problems.
Overall it was an interesting visit to hear about what the state of Missouri is doing in terms of their conservation of species and the environment. The theme today was about fish production and conservation. My first learning point for the day for the day was about how many different species of fish the conservation area are growing to aid in replenishing and slowing down the loss of endangered species. My second learning point was about the production of fish and how you have 2 harvests per year depending on when you start growing your fish. My third learning point for the day was about the benefits of having the floodwater areas and the microclimates that it creates for the surrounding area, which allows for different agricultural uses.
My assessment of the visit was that it was interesting but not what I expected. I was prepared for more of a fish farm setting rather than a conservation area but it was educational to say the least.