All about trout

When most people order fish, they do so by the pound at their local fish counter.

But if you’re a New Hampshire Fish and Game warden and you think your pond is running a little low on trout, you can order fish by the hundreds from the local fish hatchery.

On Saturday, the Milford Fish Hatchery’s open house provided an opportunity for the public to see where much of the state’s trout population is born and raised.

Fish culturalist Don Shuffleton was on hand to give a guided tour. He walked among the facility’s 60 outdoor pools, explaining the process of raising trout from egg to young adult.

The Milford facility was built in 1973 and is one of six state hatcheries supervised by the state Fish and Game Department. In addition to the outdoor pools, the Milford facility has two rearing ponds and a hatchery building. The hatchery raises rainbow, brook and brown trout, as well as tiger trout – a crossbreed between brook and brown trout.

An interactive visitor center at the facility explains the need for fish hatcheries in New Hampshire. One exhibit says some trout species do not reproduce because the state’s water is too acidic, or they reproduce too slowly to keep up with fishing demands.

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Each pool holds anywhere from 2,000 to 50,000 fish, according to hatchery estimates, and the ponds hold about 64,000 fish each. According to a brochure, the Milford facility produces about 147,000 pounds of fish a year.

The process starts in the fall, when fish eggs are received from other hatcheries or collected from the facility’s own egg-producing females, called brood stock. The eggs are kept in an incubator with flowing water until they are ready to hatch.

The hatchery’s newest addition is a cooler to bring down the water temperature in the incubator.

“Eggs will come to us from the northern hatcheries, where the water is a lot colder,” Shuffleton said. “When (the eggs) get here, the warmer water makes them progress so fast.”

Now, when hatchery staff determines the incubator water is too warm for the eggs, the “chiller” can be used to reduce the water temperature.

After hatching, the fish are moved to indoor water troughs until the springtime, when they are moved to the outdoor pools. The fish are moved from pool to pool depending on how big they are and how much room they need.

On Saturday, visitors could see fish ranging in size from the length of a child’s thumb to the length of an adult’s forearm.

When the fish are between 1 and 2 years old, Shuffleton said they are usually ready to be stocked into the state’s waters. Fish and Game wardens evaluate the need for trout, and the hatchery provides fish by the truck-full when needed. Some of the outdoor pools are tented. Shuffleton explained the tents are used “to protect the fish from birds of prey like the blue heron. It also keeps the water cooler and cleaner.”

The facility also has a “show pool” where kids can get fish food for a quarter and feed large adult trout.

Few people were out and about at Saturday’s open house, but the general public can visit the state’s hatcheries for free between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. year-round. The exhibit center is open from May to October, and guided tours are available by arrangement.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or