Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery is on the south side of Lake Hamilton in Garland County. It covers 134 acres in the southern edge of the scenic Ouachita Mountains, one mile north of Arkansas Highway 290 and 12 miles south of Hot Springs. It is the second-largest of four warm-water fish hatcheries owned and operated by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Land for the hatchery grounds was donated to the AGFC in 1939 by the late Harvey Couch. Construction of the first 12 ponds and pumping station was completed in 1940, and the first crop of fish was raised at the Lake Hamilton State Fish Hatchery in 1941. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, more ponds were constructed on the hatchery grounds. In 1987, the hatchery was renamed Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery in honor of former AGFC Director Andrew Hulsey.
During the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, the hatchery facilities were renovated and expanded. The hatchery includes 42 earthen ponds, ranging from 0.4 acres to 4 acres, totaling 84.1 acres. All ponds are devoted to continuous production of native and non-native sportfish for stocking public waters throughout Arkansas.
Hatchery Management and Operations
Major fish species produced at the Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery are Florida-strain largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, walleye, bluegill and redear sunfish. Minnows, shad and tilapia are raised as forage fish to provide food for brood fish such as Florida largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Grass carp are cultured as forage fish and for aquatic vegetation control.
The hatchery spawning season runs from mid-March through July. Most spawning occurs naturally in hatchery ponds. The males of nest-spawning species fan out depressions in the bottom of the pond where females then lay eggs. After spawning, males guard the eggs and newly hatched fish called fry.
Some species, such as walleye and striped bass, require flowing water for spawning and cannot spawn naturally in hatchery ponds. These species are spawned artificially and eggs are incubated indoors under carefully controlled conditions. Fry are transferred to hatchery ponds and reared to fingerling (2-3 inches) size before being harvested and stocked in public waters.
To ensure that all Florida largemouth bass produced are 100 percent Florida strain, each fish used for spawning must be genetically tested and tagged. This is accomplished by protein electrophoresis. Samples are collected in a non-lethal manner from each fish and analyzed to establish genetic purity.
The hatchery produces an average of 1.5 million fish annually for stocking into public waters throughout Arkansas. Cultured fish are stocked to fulfill management program requests by fisheries biologists. Most fish are harvested from production ponds as fingerlings and transported to waters across Arkansas in state-of-the-art fish transport trucks.
Minnows, shad and tilapia are food for piscivorous (fish-eating) brood species such as Florida largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Other species, such as bluegill, tilapia, redear sunfish and grass carp, are fed commercial fish food made from grain, peanuts, soybeans and cottonseed meal fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Dissolved oxygen can be an issue when fish are raised in hatchery ponds. Oxygen depletion can be caused by decomposing vegetation, waste from excess commercial feed, fluctuating water temperatures and weather conditions, and dense phytoplankton blooms. Mechanical aeration supplied by electric paddlewheel aerators and flushing the pond with large amounts of fresh lake water are techniques used to correct or prevent oxygen depletion. Diseases and parasites can be problematic but are usually controlled by properly maintaining water quality and pond culture conditions. Certain medications sanctioned by the federal government may be used when appropriate.
Fish survival is highly dependent on adequate amounts of plankton. Organic fertilizers (alfalfa pellets, cottonseed meal and hay) and/or inorganic fertilizers are regularly applied to fish production ponds to stimulate growth of aquatic microorganisms (zooplankton, pictured above) and microscopic plants (phytoplankton). Both serve as food for fry and fingerlings. Each production pond is monitored closely by analyzing water samples and applying fertilizer to achieve suitable amounts of plankton. Fertilizers are used to control aquatic vegetation.