BOB MAINDELLE: TPWD’s hybrid fingerling rearing efforts exceed expectations | outdoor sports
The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife regularly stocks hybrid striped bass fingerlings and/or fry in tanks across the Lone Star State during the spring months.
These hybrids are created either by crossing a male white bass with a female striped bass to produce a Palmetto strain hybrid, or by crossing a female white bass with a male striped bass to produce a Sunshine strain hybrid.
In recent years, the large egg-laden female striped bass needed to produce the Palmetto strain have become increasingly difficult to find. A case in point: This week, TPWD employees Brian VanZee, John Tibbs and Michael Baird traveled to the tailrace below the Lake Livingston dam to scout for female striped bass, hoping to going back in a few weeks to electrofish for mature female stripers.
This place has consistently produced mature female strippers for nearly 30 years. Despite significant water flow through the dam of approximately 16,000 cubic feet of water per second, not a single mature striped female was discovered. No hybrid striped bass and no white bass were discovered here either.
Although TPWD will continue to look elsewhere, this is not good news for Palmetto strain production.
For this reason, and others, TPWD has begun paying more attention and investing in the equipment and technology needed to breed the Sunshine-strain hybrid. Male striped bass and female white bass are much more abundant and easier to obtain than mature female striped bass.
TPWD has actually started keeping female white bass in captivity at three of their hatcheries, AE Wood, Dundee, and East Texas Fish Hatchery; some of these fish were caught with rod and reel from Stillhouse Hollow Lake in the spring of 2020, others were collected annually by electrofishing. Male striped bass are fairly easily caught when needed by rod and reel from Lake Whitney and other locations.
Male and female striped bass are also kept in captivity at the Possum Kingdom Fish Hatchery. Currently, these captive broodstock are used to supplement production, as it is not possible to retain enough of them to meet the state’s need for hybrids and pure stripers.
To quantify TPWD’s efforts so far, Tibbs said the East Texas Fish Hatchery located near Jasper has already produced 4.2 million Sunshine fingerlings in their first batch, of which 1.2 million have been placed in Belton Lake Thursday.
Belton’s fish were stocked by biologists John Provine and Trevor Troxel. The men used the wind-sheltered White Flint Park as their base of operations and sought out the most fertile waters to give the tiny fry the best chance of finding enough food, in the form of rotifers, to survive.
According to Tibbs, AE Wood Hatchery in San Marcos just produced its first test batch of 400,000 fingerlings in preparation for mass production.
Tibbs also shared that the hatchery in Dundee, West Texas, is preparing its captive fish to spawn in two to three weeks. With 60 female white bass and 21 male striped bass at this location, biologists predict an additional contribution of up to five million hybrids to the TPWD total for the year.
This is all good news for locally organized Belton Anglers Stocking Hybrid (BASH) participants who recently raised more than $8,400 in private funds to purchase Sunshine fry from an out-of-state hatchery if efforts of TPWD had failed.
Tibbs, the Waco District Inland Fisheries Supervisor, personally attended the organization’s major fundraiser held at Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton on Feb. 8, as did Hugh Shine, who represents the 55th District in the Texas House of Representatives.
As it stands, the organization will simply carry over these funds as a ready contingency plan in case the unexpected happens in the future, so that Belton Lake continues to be optimally supplied in accordance with its own management plan. from the lake of TPWD.
Not all Sunshine strain hybrids produced will be stocked as fingerlings. TPWD has the capacity and budget to raise some of these fingerlings to a larger size, called fingerlings, in grow-out tanks located on the hatchery grounds.
Although TPWD cannot commit to this until all rearing is complete and all stocking is underway, it is conceivable that Belton Lake will receive a second stocking of fish beyond of the 1.2 million initially stockpiled this week as TPWD tries to help the reservoir recover from a failed seeding in 2019 and poor recruitment during hybrid seedings in 2015 and 2016.