A gazillion baby rainbow trout were ready to stretch their fins and the Kings River Fisheries Management Program was there to help.
On a warm February afternoon a handful of volunteers gathered at the nondescript trout incubator in the shadow of the Pine Flat Dam ready to set tens of thousands of fry free into the Kings River.
A few volunteers brought their children, some were veterans of the 21-year-old program and others were eager to grab a bucket of fry and stock their secret fishing holes.
The fisheries program is a unique collaboration between between state regulators, downstream irrigators and conservationists.
The collaborative was formed in 1999 and renewed last year through 2029. Its goal is to cooperatively keep the lower Kings River healthy for all users, including farms and fish.
Participants include the Kings River Conservation District, Kings River Water Association and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Part of the fisheries program includes stocking the river with rainbow trout. The eggs are collected from out of state but incubated in a facility at the base of Pine Flat Dam using Kings River water. So, by the time the trout fry hatch, they are acclimated to the river.
Over it’s 20 years, the program has become a popular educational tool for local schools. And it has relied heavily on volunteers to help with everything from cleaning the fry raceways to fish population counts.
It uses volunteers to help release up to 300,000 rainbow trout fry every year between Feb. and April. It’s latest fry release was Feb. 26.
The program operates on about a $200,000 annual budget, which is shared by the parties — $50,000 each from KRCD and KRWA and $100,000 from from the state. State funding is dependent on legislative approval. In years when there’s no state funding, Fish and Wildlife staff help locate grants.
This year, the 2019-20 budget is $147,000, including $74,000 for supplemental fish stocking, which was paid for by KRCD and KRWA.
Oversight is provided through an executive committee representing each agency. It also takes input from a technical committee and a public advisory committee, which both meet monthly.
The Fisheries Program will have another fry release on April 22, depending on weather and water conditions. Volunteers must register for the release with Lori Werner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-237-5567 ext. 122.