Taking Stock: A Trip to the Trout Hatchery


As you read this, state fish-hatchery personnel are busily stocking trout in lakes, ponds, rivers and streams throughout New England. To find out what’s involved in the process, I wrangled a personal tour of the Sandwich Fish Hatchery in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The place has a rich history. Hatchery manager Craig Lodowsky of the Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game explained that aquaculture operations have existed on the site since 1860. In 1912, the state purchased the property for $9,000 and turned it into a publicly funded game fish hatchery. The hatchery office—a cozy, cabin-like structure heated by a wood stove—still bears the marks of the WPA workers who built it in 1940.

The sprawling hatchery grounds are open to the public, and it’s common to see families wandering among the fish pens or marveling at the enormous trophy fish—including a 19-pound rainbow—maintained by the hatchery. You can even feed the fish via a vending machine that doles out handfuls of feed pellets at 25 cents a pop.

The eggs take 46 days to hatch into alevins, which then take another 40 days
to develop into
free-swimming fry.

Lodowsky and his staff are responsible for stocking all of the state-maintained lakes and ponds of southeastern Massachusetts, including those on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Their efforts are supported by taxes on fishing tackle and fishing license sales in a direct user-pays, user-benefits relationship. The Sandwich Hatchery raises 5 species of trout, including brook trout, brown trout, tiger trout (a cross between brook and rainbow) and 2 species of rainbows. Most of the fish are stocked locally, although some of the tiger trout are shipped to the Berkshires.

As I discovered on my visit, the trout at the Sandwich facility are grown from eggs shipped from Virginia broodstock. The eggs are kept in shallow pans inside a large, heated building that also contains rows of plastic tanks filled with maturing trout fry. The eggs take 46 days to hatch into alevins, which then take another 40 days to develop into free-swimming fry.

The fry are weaned on powdered feed inside the shed for 6 months, or until they reach 3 inches in length. At this point they are transferred to the long, outdoor pens, where they are fed pellets via automated machines. Most of the pens are covered by nets to keep out predators, although Lodowsky keeps one open for the local osprey, which can be seen diving for fresh trout throughout the day. “The last thing I want to deal with is an osprey tangled in the net,” he explains.

When the trout reach 14 inches long, they are scooped up in nets and placed inside metal tanks mounted on the back of the hatchery truck, which then takes them to the various ponds and lakes around the area. The truck is equipped with recirculating water pumps and oxygen tanks to keep the fish healthy during transport.

I tagged along with hatchery technician Greg McSharry as he drove to nearby Peters Pond in Sandwich and stocked it with rainbows, tigers and brook trout. Many people think of trout as delicate creatures, but you wouldn’t know it to see McSharry tossing netfuls of them into the pond from a height of 4 feet. “They are very hardy,” he told me, adding that hardly any of the fish die during the stocking procedure.

All of the trout-stocking activity at Peters Pond soon attracted the attention of some local fishermen, who were curious to learn which species were being placed in the pond. A couple of anglers even wandered over to get a closer look—almost like kids drawn to an ice-cream truck. According to McSharry, the trout quickly adapt to their new home, and begin feeding within an hour. They’ll hit a variety of baits and lures, including live shiners, metal spoons and streamer flies. Trout fishing in Massachusetts is largely a put-and-take fishery, and it’s not likely that any of the stocked fish spawn on their own.

The Southeastern Massachusetts stocking operations are scheduled to continue through early May, then start again in October. Growing operations continue non-stop throughout the year, and the public is welcome to stop by for a visit. Just don’t touch the fish.

The Sandwich hatchery is located off Route 6A not far from the Cape Cod Canal. The grounds are open to the public.

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