Leetown Fish Hatchery

Martinsburg Journal
May 19, 1984

It's In A School By Itself

Leetown's Farmland Is Also Home To A World-Renowned National Fisheries Research Center

By Terry Headlee
Journal Staff Writer

LEETOWN - Ask someone from outside the tri-county area if he's ever heard of Leetown, W.Va. and listen to him say "Huh?"

But ask a fish health specialist from Europe if he's heard of the small uni[n]corporated community and you'll probably hear him say: "Of course I have. Hasn't everybody?"

To most area folks, Leetown is a farming community, with picturesque rolling fields and farm houses speckled here and there.

Not much excitement here - there isn't even a bank to rob.

But the town has something that no other community in the United States has.

A fisheries center, which sprawls over more than 400 acres, is a world-renowned focal point for fish health research and aquaculture development, training, technology and information.

Translated into layman terms, the center studies fish disease for detection, cure and prevention.

The center is considered the frontrunner in fish disease research and has pioneered many scientific advances used by fishery activities in the United States and abroad.

Of course much more goes on at the expanding $20 million fishery center, but it basically revolves around fish disease research and acquaculture, according to Dr. James A. McCann, director of the National Fisheries Center of Leetown.

The center is also the headquarters for eight major laboratory and field stations in six states. It is a component of the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service.

Operating on a $5 million annual budget, it is the largest fishery research lab in the country, working with a variety of fish species ranging from tropical fish to Pacific and Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout.

A full production hatchery conducts research and provides experimental fish for the $4.7 million laboratory located about 100 yards away.

It's known locally as the "Leetown Fish Hatchery," but McCann said that often-used phrase is somewhat misleading.

"It's (hatchery) actually a small part of the center," McCann said. "It's (hatchery) the oldest part of the center and the most visible to the public"

The center's 14 raceways are stocked with rainbow trout and have become an attraction for visitors at the center.

Through the years, millions of fish have been produced and distributed at the center to waters in 16 states for sport fishermen.

Recently the research and hatchery emphasis has been placed on rainbow trout, but McCann said work on other varieties such as stripped bass and Atlantic salmon, among others, is expected to be expanded.

Since its origin in 1931 with a $75,000 congressional appropriation, the center's expertise in fishery resources management has been respected in many corners of the world.

Between 1979-80, the center was the site of fishery negotiations with the Soviet Union and was visited twice by former President Jimmy Carter and once by former Interior Department Secretary James Watt.

Throughout the years, the center has received worldwide acclaim for its advanced scientific investigations to provide rapid detection, diagnosis and treatment of many infectious and communicable diseases - which present one of the most serious threats to fish cultured in confined areas, such as hatcheries.

Research here has drastically reduced the time in isolating disease, McCann said.

"In the past, before we figured out what was ailing a fish it would be dead," he said.

In the last 10 years, McCann said, diagnosing time has been reduced from two weeks to about 24 hours with the standardizing of cell culture tests and other scientific advances.

McCann, citing an example, said one researcher at the laboratory has been able to turn parasites fluorescent - "to light up like a bright light."

The local center is the headquarters for the other fishery facilities involved in fish-related projects.

In Wellsboro, Pa., facilities, researchers are working on improving hatching techniques in the Great Lakes, he said. At the Gainesville, Fla., laboratory, researchers are monitoring the 41 species of exotic fish that have found their way into United States waters.

McCann said officials want to stop the introduction of trouble-causing species such as piranha and electric eels in waters by "beefing up state regulations" to keep the species from "getting out of control."

Locally, researchers are working closely with federal and state officials in monitoring the stripped bass population to determine the recent decline in its numbers, among various other projects.

"We think it's overfishing and environmental changes," McCann said about the population decline in stripped bass, but further studies are needed to determine how the problem can be corrected.

McCann was the director of the Gainesville facility for about five years until he assumed the position of director for all the country's fishery centers in May 1983.

The $725,000 Fisheries Academy located at Leetown is considered the foremost institution of technical training of its type anywhere.

Twenty-three trainees, including five from foreign nations, completed an intensive nine-month-long class in fish health management last month at the academy.

"It's one of the most intense courses given in the U.S. in this area," McCann said.

The primary mission of the academy, which was built in 1980, is to serve as a central point for the collection and dissemination of pertinent fishery data and technology from numerous sources, including Leetown, other NFC components and the Department of the Interior.

The center's library, located in the laboratory complex, has become an information reference center for university researchers wanting material on fish husbandry to the inquires from the public on how to raise catfish, according to George Gutsell, NFC spokesman.

"Everything you need to know about fish disease is here," Gutsell said, noting the hundreds of volumes of studies and documents.

It's one of the most comprehensive fishery libraries in the world. McCann said.

The center's Technical Information Services, utilizing specialized computer systems, has expanded its informational capabilities to include access to more than 3,000 libraries throughout the country.

The center also offers a fishing area for the handicapped comprised of seven ponds, a floating bridge, boardwalks, a pavilion and picnic and comfort areas.

The special fishing area is stocked with largemouth bass, sunfish, carp, cattish, rainbow trout and muskellunge.

Hatchery manager Willie Barnes said the bi-annual fishing days for Eastern Panhandle handicapped children "are a lot of fun to watch...those kids really get into it."

The handicapped facility was dedicated in July 1978.

Since the center relies on local water sources for the existence of the facility, officials recently purchased 165 acres to protect its watershed. The purchase became final last month, McCann said.

Prior to this year, the total acreage of the center was 232 acres.

New Exhibit Coming And That's No Fish Story

By Terry Headlee
Journal Staff Writer

LEETOWN - A fishery exhibit that could attract as many as 10,000 tourists a year and cost more than $150,000 is currently in the works at the National Fisheries Center in Leetown.

The exhibit was scheduled to be completed this month but has been delayed to early September, according to Keith Voges, NFC outdoor recreation planner.

Described as a "total visitor-use package" the exhibits will be located on the first floor of the center's administration building and in areas immediately outside the building including the three circular ports and acquarium, he said.

Dr. James A. McCann, NFC director, said he anticipates the "visitor load" will increase at the center once the exhibits are in place.

"We haven't really encouraged them (visitors) in the past to come here, but we will once this is completed," he said.

McCann cited the 10,000 tourist figure but admits "it may be conservative."

Voges said he has given tours for special groups at the center, but tourists don't have much to see except "for looking at the trout in the raceways."

"Eventually we hope to have the introductory (fish) display completed (by late summer) which will be geared toward the public," he said.

The indoor exhibits will consist of several components including large photo murals highlighting well-organized fish as well as those considered endangered species.

Another exhibit will explain the origin of fish and why they are important to man, Voges said.

Other exhibits will divide the importance of fish into four separate "subthemes" including commercial usage, sport and recreation, cultural and the impact of fish to the environment, he said.

There is expected to be several computer terminals in one corner of the room to test visitors' IQs on various questions associated with fish.

Other exhibits wfti review the various habitats for fish while another asks the question: "Are there fish in our future?" - in light of the increase in acid rain and other environmental problems facing the fish population.

Concrete walkways are expected to be constructed outside for tourists to review the three remaining original circular trout pools - which are about 50 years old. Wayside exhibits will give the story of the 200-year-old grist mill building - now the home of administration offices.

The center's acquarium building will be rehabilitated and will have tanks of fish of various species on display.

Information panels will also explain the nearby experimental hatching operation and the fish health research laboratory located across the road.

A changeable exhibit room located off the lobby will be made available for community groups wanting to display special projects relating to the fish industry, Voges said.

The information center is expected to be dedicated September 8 if work is completed and U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., is able to attend the ceremonies, he said.

Voges said the first phase of the exhibits are expected to arrive at the center next month and the sidewalk and outdoor exhibits are to be constructed in July.

All work is scheduled to be completed August 27, he said.

A New Jersey firm, Sakow Associates, has been contracted to construct the exhibits.

Voges said the project was delayed here because the firm was constructing exhibits at the World's Fair, which opened this week In New Orleans.

Costs to construct the exhibits ($l56,000) is being funded from monies leftover during the recent renovation of the administration building - damaged by fire in June 1980.

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