On Tuesday, officials with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) confirmed that there was an act of vandalism at the Armstrong Fish Hatchery that resulted in the deaths of 150,000 rainbow trout. Authorities suspect that the perpetrators entered the McDowell County facility over Easter weekend and diverted fresh water away from the hatchery, leaving thousands of young trout to suffocate. Wildlife officials promised that an investigation is underway and highlighted the seriousness of the situation.
“Meanwhile, our biologists are identifying options for meeting fish-stocking schedules as planned, including transferring trout from another Wildlife Commission hatchery and increasing feeding rates to grow other trout faster,” the WRC announced on their Facebook page. “In addition, the Wildlife Commission has been fortunate to receive multiple offers of assistance and trout from other state fish & wildlife agencies, including the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.”
WRC fish production supervisor David Deaton told The McDowell News that the dollar value of the lost trout is estimated at $150,000. The fish, which ranged in size from four to 10 inches, were meant to be stocked across 12 counties in western North Carolina over the next two years. Raising replacements for the lost trout could take as long as 18 months.
“My goal is not to impact our stocking,” said Deaton. “We will work feverishly on a plan to mitigate these losses.”
Many anglers took to Facebook to voice their outrage.
“Catch ’em and throw away the key!” wrote one commentator.
“If they vandalize a fish hatchery then they don’t have a decent bone in their bodies. Some are just the scum of the earth and should serve jail time AND fines for the fish they killed!” wrote another.
Others wondered why the fishery did not have more security measures to keep vandals from entering. Wildlife officials said the perpetrators entered the facility sometime late Saturday afternoon. The WRC has ruled out employee error and suspects that the perpetrator may have an agenda against the agency or hatchery.
“It’s pretty evident it was a malicious act,” Deaton told The McDowell News.
The dead fish were loaded onto trucks and disposed nearby. Officials are considering transferring fish from another hatchery to help make up for the loss.
Update 4-10-2015: Police have arrested three men, aged 20 to 21, in connection with the vandalism to the Armstrong Hatchery. According to local media, officials do not believe the men knew what they were doing, but were simply “messing around.” They have been charged with injury to personal property and pollution or damage to a hatchery.
Images courtesy North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission