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THE TIME WARP TO NEW WORLDS
Robert Cantwell
December 15, 1975
Six saltwater fish, deceived into believing the spawning season lasts all year, portend an angling revolution
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December 15, 1975

The Time Warp To New Worlds

Six saltwater fish, deceived into believing the spawning season lasts all year, portend an angling revolution

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After they were taken from the ponds, the fish were kept overnight in saltwater tanks in the laboratory. Fresh water was gradually added over a period of three hours until all the salt was dissipated. Then the plantings in lakes were begun. The first were small—18,000 in Long Lake near Austin, 10,000 in Lake Creek and 7,000 in Tradinghouse Creek Reservoir near Waco. Transportation created problems; it had been planned to deliver 24,000 at Waco, but because of delays in unloading 17,000 fish died.

In October the crew at Palacios gathered to drain two more big ponds. The installation stands on the north shore of Matagorda Bay, a lonely, windswept, treeless place with some 21 acres of diked ponds grouped around a laboratory and living quarters. A one-acre pond held 3.4 acre-feet of water—1,107,893 gallons. A hundred thousand 48-hour-old redfish had been stocked in it 34 days before. The draining was scheduled to begin at eight o'clock in the morning, but the sky was gray and hazy at that hour and the draining was postponed until nearly mid-morning, when the sun was bright and fresh wind agitated the surface of the ponds. Plastic buckets were filled with saltwater, weighed and placed beside a small collecting pool. Gates were lifted from the culvert that passed under the road along the dike. For an hour nothing happened; the nine men in the crew watched the flowing water with hypnotized intensity. At 11:25, when the water level was down enough to expose sloping walls of mud, Claude Horton, the superintendent of the hatchery, said, "It's full of fish!" Moments later the men with dip nets began pouring fish into the waiting buckets, which were then weighed again before the fish were taken to oxygen-fed tanks on a truck parked nearby. It was a fast, silent operation—nets filled with silvery, glistening fish were carefully emptied into buckets, the buckets weighed, raced up the bank, emptied into the truck, refilled with water, weighed, again loaded with fish, weighed again, emptied into the truck—and it continued until, 20 minutes later, the pond was empty and 25 pounds of month-old redfish, 10,321 fish, calculated by their weight, were on their way to the laboratory. There they would be tempered in fresh water before being stocked in a lake.

The second pond had been stocked with 154,600 baby redfish. It had a two-acre surface area and the fisheries crew had grown more experienced in the stocking procedures by the time it was in operation. Even so, the result was phenomenal: 100,466 fish were taken out, a 65% return.

Meanwhile, at the Port Aransas laboratory the captive redfish continued to spawn. The three females have now produced more eggs than all the fish in all the 14 fish hatcheries in Texas this year. Precisely how many is unknown; no figures have been released after the total of 50 million created a sensation. "I'm really getting scared about quoting these figures," Dr. Arnold said, "because I sat down and calculated the volume of that number of eggs and it's more than the fishes' weight." He is thinking ahead, nevertheless, about ways to induce the redfish to spawn even more. "What we'll do now that we have a sequence that works is shorten the period of time between spawning cycles," he said. "The next thing we'll try is two different spawns a year. If that works we'll try to get three spawns a year."

All in all, there seems to be no doubt in the minds of Texas scientists that fishermen will soon be catching saltwater redfish in freshwater lakes all over the state. And in the more remote future? Dr. Arnold says, "I don't see why the same thing can't be done for any estuarine species."

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