OUR OPINION: Tupelo’s fish hatchery adapts for survival of important species

By NEMS Daily Journal

The late, celebrated U.S. Rep. John M. Allen would be proud of the endurance and adaptation of the U.S. Fish Hatchery in Tupelo that bears his name.
Allen, known universally as “Private John” Allen to political history, was a gifted and clever orator during his service in the U.S. House. His “fish hatchery” speech was powerful persuasion in getting the votes and funding to place a fish hatchery in Tupelo in 1901, and his role in securing it for his state and town eventually led to its naming for him: Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery.
The hatchery’s role has evolved as needs have changed. It once was primarily the source of fish for stocking the lakes and ponds of farmers and landowners in the region, a federal role that ended in the late 20th century.
Its work now is about the survival and population stability of several species of fish and another iconic water dweller, the alligator snapping turtle.
The hatchery, on Elizabeth Street in Tupelo near the BNSF Railroad and the Kansas City Southern Railway, is easily identifiable by its historic Manager’s House, a late Victorian recently restored for safety and environmental reasons. Its future could include quarters for visiting fish biologists and other visitors to the hatchery, or it could be made available again for rental, as was the case for several years before its deterioration required closure to the public.
The former home’s stabilization and restoration is part of a larger expansion and facilities upgrade at the hatchery. The $1.2 million project, like the original funding, came from the federal government.
Project Leader Ricky Campbell said 40 percent of the threatened fish species in the nation are in the Southeast.
The hatchery is equivalent to a nursery for lake sturgeon, alligator gar, paddlefish, Gulf Coast walleye, striped bass and other species that need help.
All the fish are well-known, either for their adult size, appearance, or importance as game fish sought by sport fishermen. They’re all important in the balance of nature. The fish and the hatchery both are an important economic asset.
In his oft-quoted fish hatchery speech, Allen said, “Fish will travel overland for miles to get into the water we have at Tupelo … thousands and millions of unborn fish are clamoring to this Congress today for an opportunity to be hatched at the Tupelo hatchery.”
Allen surely would be pleased to know that in the 21st century some of the fish are transported on specially equipped vehicles, with custom-designed circular tanks for their safety.