Threatened and endangered species from several Texas waterways are safe and sound at the Uvalde Fish Hatchery, where Scott Walker, the center’s new project leader, is implementing facility upgrades and hoping to expand its community outreach.
Walker, who has a doctoral degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University, took the helm in Uvalde late last summer after working for several years as an assistant project leader at the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery.
He relocated to Uvalde with his wife, Jennifer, who works for the National Park Service as a sea turtle biologist, and his daughter, a sixth-grader at Knippa School.
Walker says he got his footing in fisheries as a Peace Corps volunteer, working in the Philippines.
Throughout his career he has worked as a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Northwest, and also worked in marine stock enhancement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He said during that time he worked with red drum, spotted seatrout and southern flounder.
At the approximate 85-year-old Uvalde Fish Hatchery, which when fully staffed employs approximately eight people, channel catfish are raised for recreation, and the center also works with the Edwards Aquifer Authority in conservation efforts.
The hatchery is situated on about 100 acres, and has about three 10,000 square foot buildings.
The hatchery originated in 1935, via a land donation from the County of Uvalde. Construction, per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, began in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration program.
The facility has a walking trail system for visitors near a two-acre wildlife pond. Walker has been working to upgrade the trails, clearing them, and preparing to welcome more visitors.
There are also birdwatching blinds and benches for observing wildlife. He hopes to welcome students to learn about the hatchery and offer tours of the facility.
The original work of the hatchery was the stocking of ranch ponds in Southern Texas as well as new Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma and Kansas, per Fish and Wildlife Services.
Walker said the mission of the hatchery has evolved from providing sport fish to the state to providing refugia for several different species found in the Edwards Aquifer.
Walker’s colleague, biological technician Jennifer Whitt, helped explain their work. Whitt is from Corpus Christi and has worked in Uvalde for about a year and half.
She said with the growth of cities and towns, and the demand for water from the Edwards Aquifer, many species native to the aquifer system are threatened. The hatchery provides these species a habitat and sometimes will help grow their population.
The concept, Walker says, is that the hatchery operates so that the species are protected, and can be reintroduced into the wild should a catastrophic event occur.
“We are holding animals here that are endangered in case something horrific happens in their native habitat. So if they get wiped out from their native habitat, you haven’t lost the species,” Walker said.
There’s a similar operation in San Marcos.
In total, the center looks after eight different species as part of the Edwards Aquifer partnership, including San Marcos Darters, Comal Fountain Darters, San Marcos Salamander, Comal Salamander, Texas Blind Salamander, Pecks Cave Amphipod, the Comal Springs Riffle Beetle, and Texas wild rice. Texas wild rice is only found in the San Marcos River in Hays County.
Per Texas Parks and Wildlife, its a clumping perennial grass that roots underwater in riverbeds.
There are also Devils River Minnows at the hatchery, and Comanche Springs Pupfish, from Balmorhea State Park area, was originally listed as an endangered species in 1967, due to habitat loss, per FWS. The hatchery also currently has about 13,824 channel catfish.
Historically, these fish have been used to provide fishing opportunities for the community during annual fishing derby days. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept those from happening for about three years, so Walker says there are a lot of catfish. Hopefully, he said the hatchery will welcome the community back to fish in the near future.
The Uvalde National Fish Hatchery is located at 754 County Rd. 203. They are open from 7 a.m to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.