Jenkins County fish hatchery gets new ecology mission

FILE Many ponds help comprise the Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery, which has been closed since 2010. Now, Georgia Southern University is using the facility for funded biology research.

The fish hatchery near Millen that has been closed for several years is being used for a new mission.

 

A Georgia Southern University biology professor recently became the first researcher to win funding for a project at the defunct 127-acre Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery. Associate Professor Checo Colon-Gaud will use the property to conduct research into the future of Southeastern ecosystems.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a memorandum of understanding with the university in 2015 that opens the facility to biology students and researchers.

Since then, biologists have visited the site to collect ticks and observe reptiles and amphibians, said Dr. Lance McBrayer, associate dean for research in the university’s College of Science and Mathematics.

But Dr. Colon-Gaud’s project, begun in September, marks the first structured research project to be funded at the hatchery since it closed as a federal facility in 1996.

“When we first established the MOU, we need time to find out what would work,” McBrayer said. “It took us a while to figure out how things were going to work out there.”

Many of the experiments, the university said, will center around “ephemeral ponds” – bodies of water that are filled by rainfall but dry out over weeks or months.

The ponds provide vital habitats for many species, and Colon-Gaud and others will seek to quantify how climate-change-induced changes in rainfall have an impact on aquatic life.

The hatchery was established in 1939 as a state fish hatchery before the operation of adjacent Magnolia Springs State Park. In 1948, the property was deeded to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the creation of the Millen National Fish Hatchery.

In 1988, this facility was renamed for Ronald “Bo” Ginn of Millen, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1983 for Georgia’s 1st District.

In 1996, the hatchery became one of five nationwide whose operations were transferred to their respective states after the federal government decided the hatcheries didn’t meet the priorities of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources operated the facility until 2010, when the state decided the hatchery didn’t meet its needs, either. That reverted the property back to the federal government.

According to Allan Brown, the FWS’ assistant regional director of fish and aquatic conservation, the FWS does not intend to reopen the hatchery for its conservation mission. Neither the FWS nor Georgia Southern have pursued discussions about transferring ownership of the property to the university, he said.

 

Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or joe.hotchkiss@augustachronicle.com.

 

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