Where Fishing Begins -- Beaverkill Trout Hatchery

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Series 1: Opening Farmer Profiles, Episode 5


I've been past the Beaverkill Trout Hatchery hundreds of times over the past 12 years. But I had no idea about the kind of operation they had until I visited trout farmer Sherry Shaver, now at the hatchery's helm. Sherry is the 4th generation of Shavers running the farm. Sherry and her family -- now two generations deep -- grow five different kinds of trout for stocking ponds and rivers, and for food. I don't really want to tell you any more... listen to their amazing story here.


If you've missed the previous four episodes, take a few minutes to binge -- a goat dairy that's right in the middle of town, a lamb farm that stars on the dinner plates at the hottest Brooklyn eateries, micro greens and the dirt that makes them grow, the conversion of a dairy farm to something new... It's all there.


And if you have any ideas, know any farmers I should meet, or have some feedback for the show, there's a new Suggestions link on the show's website where you can say what you have to say. I encourage you to do it!


Finally, sharing is caring. If you found this episode the least bit interesting, amusing or touching, share it with a friend. I am not whining, but making a podcast is a ton of work and getting it to new folks to listen is even more challenging. For now, we have thousands of new listeners in over 10 countries. Hoping to turn that into tens of thousands with your help. Share it for me if you like, but really... share it for the farmers. We should all know our farmers better. To me, they are famous. I want them to be more famous to you and to others too.


XOXO FG

SHOW NOTES


MUSIC

All of the music in this episode is by Lobo Loco.

All Night Long (ID 774) and Spencer Bluegrass (ID 1230)

www.musikbrause.de Creative Commons License (by-nc-nd)


SPECIAL THANKS

Of course, the most special thanks to trout farmers Sherry Shaver and Tyler Shaver for their time (Two and a half hours of tape is crammed into a a 20-minute episode!). I thoroughly enjoyed every moment on the farm with you. And, yes, I will be back. Save me a seat at the next egg harvest!


For expert consultation, thank you to Cliff Kraft, an aquatic biologist from Cornell University, for his consult on fish behavior, and the context for hatcheries in NY state and beyond.


For editing support, huge thanks to Shia Levitt for the many hours of engaged review and good ideas.


I also recently participated in a two-day Podcast Boot Camp at Union Docs in Brooklyn, NY. Thanks to Sally Herships and Sarah Wyman for all the tips, practice and useful resources.


LINKS

Beaverkill Trout Hatchery

Livingston Manor Hot Spots (including restaurants)


TRANSCRIPT

The following is a full transcript of the show, in case you prefer this format. If you can, listen to Sherry. She's amazing.


Talk Farm to Me, Season 1, Episode 5

Where Fishing Begins -- Beaverkill Trout Hatchery


Farm Girl (00:16):

On Talk Farm to Me, the farmer takes center stage and we find out what they do and how they do it, and no matter how you spend your time, I'm pretty sure you have more in common with farmers than you think. So sit back and relax, and I'll bring a farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.


Farm Girl (00:49):

The Beaverkill Trout Hatchery is nestled on the shores of the Beaver kill river. For the past 60 years, the hatchery, a veritable fish farm has been supplying trout to these waters. Without it, there would be far fewer fish to catch here. The hatchery is just 15 miles from Main Street in the town of Livingston Manor, New York. To get there, you follow the river on a long, winding road linked with old farmhouses. On your way, you'll pass the big white house where Irving Berlin, a famous composer and lyricist lived. He was likely alluding to these local waters in his 1935 hit, Dancing Cheek to Cheek. (singing... "Oh, I love to go out fishing in a river or a creek...").


Farm Girl (01:41):

The Beaverkill River is a tributary of the Delaware River. Along its 44 winding miles, bald eagles are repopulating. Blue heron and black bear hunt here. In the water, otters play, beavers dam, and trout lurk in the cool shadows. For more than a century, fishermen have traveled here in pursuit of peaceful downtime in the great outdoors, hoping to find their own version of the fish tales that these trout have inspired.


Farm Girl (02:11):

A light blue farmhouse serves as the hatchery's headquarters. A big, red barn displays a family tree of sorts made up of wooden fish. Each one is hand carved with the names of five generations of one family who have worked in this family business. Just across the road a series of small ponds separate schools of growing trout. A larger pond invites visitors to fish in paper what they catch. There's a lot more to this farm than meets the eye. Trout farmer, Sherry Shaver, is now at the hatchery's helm. She is the fourth generation of her family to run the farm and the great granddaughter of its founder.


Sherry Shaver (02:59):

The Beaverkill Trout Hatchery was founded in approximately 1963 by Fred D. Shaver. That was my great-grandfather. We have five generations of family. Our primary business is stocking live trout, hand measured, that we have grown throughout the state of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and we do a lot of business in Connecticut to private fishing clubs, pond owners. We do a lot of kids' fishing contests. We go all the way to Lake Placid.


Farm Girl (03:40):

Recreational fishing is big business. In 2018, nearly 50 million Americans went fishing for fun, mostly in fresh water where trout live and this number is on the rise. According to the US census Bureau's most recent numbers, fishing and fishing related expenditures totaled more than $80 billion a year. $80 billion!


The key to all of this of course is the fish. If you catch a fish, you're more likely to go fishing again, and if you catch a big one, you're hooked. What most people don't realize is that both public and private fishing holes are stocked with fish that come from hatcheries.


Sherry Shaver (04:24):

Fish don't exactly stay where you put them. I mean, they travel up and down this river.


Farm Girl (04:30):

The fish stocked in the river also feeds a larger ecosystem than just the fishermen. I spoke with an aquatic biologist from Cornell University who has tracked trout with electronic transmitters, only to find the devices in a tree after an osprey ate the tagged trout for lunch.


Sherry Shaver (04:49):

We have a big predator issue with eagles, bears, otters, mink, you name it, blue herons. So the fish have a lot of competition to survive with all this stuff going on. Plus, people fish them out.


Farm Girl (05:08):

Fishing lodges, private fishing clubs and fishing instruction schools cater to folks who love to fish and will pay top dollar. Just down the road from the hatchery is a famous fly fishing school. The fish are the main attraction for the school, a local hotel, and several private fishing clubs nearby.


Sherry Shaver (05:28):

Well, the thing with these private fishing clubs, the members pay a lot of money to belong, so they want to catch fish. A lot of your, the people putting them in their ponds want to be able to fish to eat, and also, it's cheap entertainment.


Farm Girl (05:43):

75% of Sherry's business is stocking ponds, rivers, and streams. She and the next generation of her family work year round to raise hundreds of thousands of trout. It's tough work.


Sherry Shaver (05:58):

This is a very labor intensive operation. We don't just go out here and the fish jump on the truck for the fish order that's going out tomorrow. When we have an order of fish, we don neoprene waders, rubber gloves, aligners, all of the clothes you can get on because it's pretty darn cold. Then we go to catch fish, go take the a 40 foot seine. One person goes out in front of the other one to the end of the pond, turns, comes back, and we bring all the fish back with us and net the fish into our grade box where the fish are all hand measured within a half an inch of desired size. Some days we'll be catching 1,000 fish. We've caught as many as 3,000 fish in one day, all hand measured. But remember, in that process we're also handling probably 10 to 15,000, 20,000 fish to get the desired sizes.


Farm Girl (07:05):

If you're like me, you're wondering, "Where do they get all these fish?" Sherry took me on a tour of their hatch house.


Oh my God.


Inside, six long metal troughs are full of moving water.


They are teeming with hundreds of thousands of one-inch baby trout.


Sherry Shaver (07:27):

We take our own eggs from our own fish in the fall and hatch them out. We'd get in the pond, and when a female is ripe, we somewhat cradle her, and you just touch her belly and the eggs will just start to come out, and the same with the males. You kind of have to strip them to get the milt, sperm. We probably hatched out 100,000 browns, 50,000 brook trout, and 80,000 rainbows.


Farm Girl (08:00):

It's pretty common for hatcheries to use chemicals such as formaldehyde to help in the trout breeding process, but this hatchery does it the old fashioned way. For the first six weeks after the eggs are fertilized, they inspect them, hundreds of thousands of them by hand, removing any dead eggs with an eyedropper.


Sherry Shaver (08:21):

So that's quite a tedious process. There are easier ways. We kind of like the old school way, without chemicals and what have you.


Farm Girl (08:31):

At the Beaverkill Trout Hatchery, they raise five different kinds of trout, brook, brown, tiger and two kinds of rainbow. They are all good for eating, but the tiger sound like the most fun to catch.


Sherry Shaver (08:45):

The tigers are a cross between a brown female and a brook trout male. They're sterile like a mule. They get super big and they are some fighters.


Farm Girl (08:58):

I think you might be surprised at how long it takes a fish to grow to 12 inches.