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Hatchery spawns unusual albino trout

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ARLEE — In spring 2009, the Jocko River Trout Hatchery got a colorful surprise after spawning roughly 250 albino trout. The last time this happened was in 1992.

“It’s an indication that the stock is still good and variability is still strong,” said 25-year employee Ron Snyder. “If you saw this all the time, it would be an indication of a problem.”

The Arlee strain of rainbow trout genetics was created in the 1960s, and no outside fish have been introduced into the population since. Despite this, the genetic variability of the trout is still very high.

Only 76 of the 250 albino ?ngerlings survived to maturity. The lucky 76 were placed in a showing raceway at the hatchery.

These extremely rare trout are neon orange with a bright red stripe down each side and pink eyes. Snyder said this makes them an easy target for predators, as their vibrant color provides a stark contrast against the tank bottom.

Over the past few years, the albino population has dwindled to only 12.

“We won’t be releasing these into the wild. They’re selected against very quickly, so we’re keeping them here for people to see,” Snyder explained.

The hatchery had yet another surprise just a few weeks ago. Employee Charles Bridgham was feeding some newly hatched ?ngerlings when he saw about 20 blue-colored trout. Bridgham said these blue trout are more rare than the albinos, and he plans to wait a while before putting these fish in the show tank.

“I want them to be as big as possible so they don’t get eaten,” Bridgham said.

The wait could be a long one, as both blue and albino trout grow slower than normal. Snyder credits this to their less aggressive nature; they don’t get to the food as quickly. However, there is a good chance that their laid-back nature will translate into a longer life.

Rainbow trout in the wild have a lifespan of only three to four years. In a hatchery like Arlee’s, they could live eight years. Snyder said that several of the albino trout from 1992 lived more than 10 years.

The Jocko River Trout Hatchery produces more than 6 million eggs per year and spawns about 1,100.

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