Ennis Fish Hatchery

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the slaughter of nearly 30 fish at an Ennis fish hatchery, including its oldest and largest fish.

Sheriff Phil Fortner said that employees at the Ennis National Fish Hatchery suspect the vandalism happened on Oct. 27, between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. He said a hatchery employee who lives above the building saw two people recklessly driving a yellow ATV in the parking area around the time the fish were killed.

Fortner said no suspects have been identified.

“They got inside and they killed about 30 fish. We just don’t have any more information than that,” he said.

The hatchery, which is southwest of Ennis, cares for adult rainbow trout and is the largest facility in the National Broodstock Program, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. It is one of two rainbow trout hatcheries in the federal hatchery system and produces about 20 million eggs annually for research facilities, universities and federal, state and tribal hatcheries in 23 states.

Ron Hopper, hatchery project leader, said a junior biologist found the vandalism and dead fish while getting ready to feed and care for the fish.

“They found about 30 dead fish, and they weren’t fish that just happened to die — these were brutally killed,” he said.

Hopper said the vandals used ice-chopping tools and garden hoes to kill the fish. He said the assailants broke the handles on the garden hoes from beating and cutting the fish.

“The vandalism is one thing, but brutalizing fish like that is quite a shock and disappointing,” Hopper said.

Among the fish that were killed was a 7-year-old rainbow trout named “Big Bill” that was on display for the public. The fish weighed about 12 pounds.

“It was my favorite fish and they killed that one,” Hopper said.

Before the incident the hatchery kept its doors unlocked after closing because it was comfortable with people visiting after hours. Hopper said the hatchery now locks its doors and is adding video cameras because of the incident.

“You don’t expect this to happen 12 miles outside of a community of 800 people,” Hopper said.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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