South Georgia hatchery helps restore aquatic life - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

South Georgia hatchery helps restore aquatic life

April 25, 2006

Crisp County-- Many United States waterways are in serious trouble. 50 percent of them are impaired. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has launched a 5-year campaign to restore the nation's waterways and the aquatic life that should thrive there. But how does Georgia's streams and lakes measure up?

For the past thirteen years, Jody Swearingen has jumped feet first into his work. "Get to spend a lot of time outdoors. Get to mess with fish a lot," says Jody Swearingen.

He's what you could call the "Hatchery Man", testing the waters, digging for things most wouldn't want to.

"I enjoy it most of the time anyway," says Swearingen. In more than 80 spawning pens, Swearingen makes a way for huge catfish to reproduce in cans. "We pair them up so the male can entice the female to spawn," says Swearingen.

And the result is thousands of eggs. "A five pound fish will average about 15,000," says Swearingen. They're placed in a bucket, carried off to the hatching house and placed in baskets to hatch. "Depending on the water temperature, they'll start hatching out anywhere from 5 to 7 days," says Swearingen.

After more work and several days, they're then ready to leave this hatchery world. "After about 7 days, they're old enough to be stocked out into our ponds," says Swearingen. And that's the key to Swearingen's job and the key to preserving Georgia's waters and natural environment. The Department of Natural Resources helps with the fishing sport and fish restoration.

"We check and see how fish populations are doing, mostly game fish," says DNR Supervisor Rob Weller.

Weller says Georgia's fish population is healthy and Georgia's waters are clean but they're work must continue to grow fish to stock reservoirs and waterways across the state and make people more aware of their natural environment.

"We do try to do an awful lot of education work in the wildlife resources division," says Weller. They grow everything from bass to blue gill and sunfish but catfish is Swearingen's specialty, something that will definitely keep him in the waters.

"I hope for a long time. I enjoy doing it so I hope to do it for a while," says Swearingen.

He'll continue to be the "Hatchery Man", handling big fish in Cordele and making a bigger difference across the state.

The Cordele Hatchery is one of only two hatcheries in the state that does the whole spawning process. They say the main reason for catfish growing is recreation. About 250,000 catfish are stocked in kids fishing events across the state to promote fishing among youth.

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