Our rainbow trout program has been going strong for decades. We are able to do everything with these fish except for collect eggs. The Neosho facility is a production hatchery, not a brood hatchery. Brood fish are the adults that are raised for the express purpose of breeding. Yep, fish romance runs strong in those places. In nature, rainbows spawn in the springtime, but Saint Valentine works his reproductive wonders from August through March for our national hatchery system. Unlike their salmon cousins, which die after spawning, these trout can spawn, return to the ocean, and migrate back upstream to spawn several times.

Our rainbow trout program has been going strong for decades. We are able to do everything with these fish except for collect eggs. The Neosho facility is a production hatchery, not a brood hatchery. Brood fish are the adults that are raised for the express purpose of breeding. Yep, fish romance runs strong in those places. In nature, rainbows spawn in the springtime, but Saint Valentine works his reproductive wonders from August through March for our national hatchery system. Unlike their salmon cousins, which die after spawning, these trout can spawn, return to the ocean, and migrate back upstream to spawn several times.
Breeding rainbows in our hatchery system are typically three or four years old and will produce a few thousand eggs at a time. We get our eggs from national fish hatcheries in Montana and sometimes West Virginia. They are shipped to us via overnight delivery, much the same as you would get any package delivered.
When they arrive here, they are “eyed” eggs – meaning they have visible black spots which are the eyes of the tiny developing fish inside. The brood hatcheries have specially designed machines that sorts to reduce the number of bad eggs or blanks that will be shipped out, so we normally see very few when they get here.
Last month we got our fourth shipment for the year (our production year, that is). They hatched last week. Each time we get eggs, one of our fish biologists measures and counts them for our inventory. These eggs were from three-year old fish—the optimum age for trout. We sometimes get ova from two-year-olds, but they tend to be smaller and a little lower in quality. Once a fish is five, she is an “older lady” and while she can still give eggs, they have a higher percentage of bad ones. Rainbows can live in captivity up to about a decade or so.
Cupid also affects our endangered pallid sturgeon program. Last fall, we were able to survey what our current adults are likely to do for the upcoming spawn. Ultrasound and endoscopy help us ascertain gender and egg readiness in the females. The female pallid sturgeon is not sexually mature until about age 15, and even then doesn’t spawn every year – possibly every 2, 3 or even more years between. Eggs that are riper look different than ones that need more development, so that’s what we look for. We are also trying a water cooling technique for the first time this year to help mimic natural conditions from their home, the Missouri River. As best we can tell, wild pallids are barely, if at all, spawning in the rivers, so everything we can do to help them reproduce here in Neosho will help. We have almost twenty wild adults here now, so hopefully we’ll get good production this spring!
And let’s not forget our smallest valentines. The last three years we were able to successfully breed the endangered Topeka shiner minnows – most of which were stocked into their natural habitats in northern Missouri. They don’t get their reproductive motors revving until the water heats up, though, and we don’t anticipate any of that action until late June. We are privileged to be the first federal facility to breed these important little fish, and we look forward to even more success with Cupid’s help in 2018.
We hope your Valentine’s season is pleasant, and rest assured that the hatchery is encouraging biological and romantic endeavors for our aquatic friends the best we know how.

Bruce Hallman writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.