Fish Hatchery


History of the Pamunkey Fish Hatchery

The Pamunkey Indians have depended on fishing, hunting, trapping and gardening for hundreds of years for our subsistence.  One of the main staples of our diet for the past one hundred and fifty years has been fish, specifically shad and herring.  The Pamunkeys also bartered these fish making them as integral part of our economy.

The Pamunkey have maintained a philosophy that if you took fish from the water, you should put some back.  We started an indoor fish hatchery in 1918, with an 800 gallon holding tank, gas powered motor, hatching jars and holding tanks.  As soon as the eggs hatched, they were gravity-fed back into the Pamunkey River.  The Commission on Fishing helped with the design and other technical information.

As time passed, we have had little support from the Commonwealth of Virginia; and during the 1940s, we had to shut down out operation.  During the 1950s, we started another approach of hatching shad with tidal boxes.  This approach was approved by the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, and financial assistance to maintain this hatchery was awarded.  In 1989, we decided that we needed an improved way of hatching.  With the help of the federal government, we constructed a new indoor fish hatchery with 12 hatching jars, a 500 gallon holding tank, 2 indoor tanks with incoming water from the river and an exit for the fry to go back into the river.  This was at a cost of approximately $10,000 from the Tribe and $13,000 from the federal government.  The Virginia Marine Resource Commission provided $3,000 to run the hatchery and for shad spawn/sperm for the Pamunkey Fisherman and operators of the hatchery donated some of their time to make this operation viable.

In 1992, the Pamunkey Tribal Government with the help of the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC), expanded the hatchery from 12 hatching jars to 24 and upgraded the facilities.  VMRC provided approximately $9,900 to pay one person on a full-time basis to maintain the facility and to pay the Tribal fishermen to catch the shad for spawn and sperm.  In 1994, we increased the size of the fish hatchery to three holding tanks and held the fry for seven days, feeding them shrimp.  We also upgraded our filtration system.

In 1998, The Pamunkey Tribal Government (PTG) moved to the next phase in developing the fish hatchery, which was tagging shad to help document life history characteristics.

Spawning shad (broad stock) will be manually spawned and fertilized eggs will be incubated in the hatchery.  Upon hatching, the young shad fry will be intensively cultured for about a 16 day period.  During their stay at the hatchery, the dry will be marked with Oxytetracyclin (OTC) on a set sequence of days that will give the shad produced from the PTG hatchery a unique tag.  All shad produced from this facility will be released back into the Pamunkey River.

In order to do OTC tagging, the Pamunkey Tribal Government what to triple the size of the fish hatchery.  We added 12 holding tanks, a new plumbing system, with oxygen and water going to all tanks, also new brine shrimp hatching tanks and a new filtration system.

The Chesapeake Bay Program Grant of $90,000 and matching funds from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries made this possible.  Also, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Pamunkey Tribal Government will help with operation of the hatchery.