Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

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The History of Our Hatchery in Independence, CA

From quality fish production to absolutely stunning surroundings, Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is a beloved fixture of the community. Since its inception in the early 1900s, our facility has served as a crucial component of the local culture. Today, we welcome visitors — from the surrounding area and afar — to learn a little more about our hatchery.

Historic Photograph of the Hatchery

Building the Hatchery

Inspired by the surrounding mountains, our hatchery was built to last. Expert craftsmen — led by Charles Dean of the State Department of Engineering — teamed up with Fish and Game Commissioner M.J. Connell to design a striking, durable building. Construction started in late March of 1916 with the goal of completing the project in the spring of 1917 — just in time to receive the first eggs. With the help of local builders, Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery opened its doors in 1917.

Raising Trout

From day one, our hatchery boasted unmatched quality and quantity. In 1917, the very year we opened, F.A. Shelby — the sitting Superintendent of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery — summed up much of our early operation: "The Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is the largest and best equipped fish hatchery in California and is under the jurisdiction of the State Fish and Game Commission. It has a yearly capacity of 2,000,000 fry."

Rae Lakes

The first trout we hatched were from eggs collected at Rae Lakes. After collection, these eggs were transported from the collecting station to our hatchery via mule train. Though this location was our primary source for years, eggs were no longer collected here after the 1927 spawning season, due to declining production.

Golden Trout Eggs

During the spawning season of 1918, we collected golden trout eggs from Cottonwood Lakes for the first time. As the official state fish of California, Golden Trout is an impressive but rare sight in hatcheries. Our golden trout hatching program was the sole source of this fish throughout the Sierra Nevada.

Hatchery in Jeopardy

The California Department of Fish and Game scheduled the closure of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery on June 30, 1996, in an effort to cut department expenditures. Opposition to the closure began in the local community and ultimately grew to include citizens throughout the state.

Our concerned neighbors recognized the functional, historical, and cultural significance of our facility. This recognition would go on to save us. After a public meeting in March of 1996, the Department of Fish and Game formed a Strategic Planning Committee of citizens interested in advising the Director on the future of the hatchery.

The Hatchery Today

Our hatchery has stood as a local institution for the past century. Though our fish production was an integral part of the Owens Valley economy, our building and grounds continue to serve as a vital component and reminder of our community's spirit. The stately building and picturesque grounds have lasted decades, hosting high school graduations, concerts, weddings, family picnics, and countless other functions. While our establishment is a local favorite, our stunning architecture and attractions also attract tourists from around the world. Our hatchery totals over 60,000 visitors each year.

Looking to the Future

Using the plan designed by the Strategic Planning Committee, the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Fish and Game. The MOU allows the Friends to operate an interpretive center, gift shop, and visitor tours at the hatchery. Additionally, Friends will assume some of the maintenance of the building and grounds.

Our Strategic Plan

The five components of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery Strategic Plan are as follows:

1. Enable the hatchery to realize its full potential in support of the Department's efforts to manage California's trout resources.
2. Preserve the historical value of the hatchery.
3. Foster a sense of pride, ownership, and involvement in the future of the hatchery by the people of California.

4. Encourage public and private partnerships for the most effective use of limited Department funds and resources.
5. Provide the public with an interpretation of the historical significance of the hatchery, as well as knowledge of the hatchery's function and an understanding of our natural resources.

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