Recently, as part of the National Association for Interpretation conference in Springfield, MO, I was able to tour the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, the oldest hatchery in operation in the United States.
Since 1888, the Neosho National Fish Hatchery has been using local spring water to raise many different species of fish including bass, bluegill, catfish and rainbow trout — and even freshwater mussels like the endangered fatmucket mussel. Rainbow trout continue to be its most plentiful fish species, with about 250,000 stocked into our own Lake Taneycomo each year. The cool, spring water is perfect for raising trout. But perhaps the most interesting species of fish currently being raised at Neosho are two native, endangered species; the Topeka shiner and the pallid sturgeon. Restoration efforts are underway for both species.
Topeka shiners are a small minnow found in cold, clear streams. Their populations have declined due to habitat loss and pollution, and they have been on the endangered species list since 1998. The Neosho National Fish Hatchery now uses the raceways once designated for brown trout to raise Topeka shiners, which have successfully reproduced in the hatchery. In December, 2,200 young shiners were released into two prairie streams in Missouri.
Pallid sturgeon are an ancient, big river fish that thrive on bottom-feeding. Adults are collected each year and used at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery for spawning. Newly hatched pallid sturgeon are then kept at the hatchery for two years before being released into lower sections of the Missouri River, where they are native. Pallid sturgeon numbers have been declining mostly due to the manipulation of waterways through channelization and dams. More than 15,000 pallid sturgeon are raised each year at Neosho.
If you’re ever in Neosho — just an-hour-and-47-minute drive from Branson, you should stop at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery and learn more at the recently built visitor center. During our tour I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have such an incredible resource at our fingertips and of how fragile these species can be. Fishing is truly a privilege. With the continued help of our state and federal governments, Missourians will be able to enjoy seeing and fishing for a wide variety of species for years to come.