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Hatchery harbors traditions
Shirley Says
The Kirkland family: top row from left, Joyce, Dorothy and Chipper; bottom row from left, Janine, Beulah, Josh and Claudette. - photo by Photo provided.
Aquaculture is the principle method of fish farming. It involves raising fish in tanks or enclosures. Commonly referred to as a “fish hatchery,” the facility releases young fish into the wild to replenish a depleted or threatened native population.
Richmond Hill’s hatchery was constructed in 1936. Since then, the 87-acre fish farm has grown to include 38 production and rearing ponds. Also, there are three ponds for kids’ fishing events. Water covers 18.8 acres at the site on Hwy. 144.
The Richmond Hill Hatchery currently raises eight types of fish. Each spring, wild brood stock is collected from inland reservoirs and sent to Richmond Hill. At the hatchery, eggs are hand-stripped from females, fertilized with sperm and hatched in special jars.
The eggs are stirred and water added to activate the fertilization process. It takes only 44 hours for the eggs to hatch. A week later the newly hatched fry are either stocked in grow-out ponds or shipped to other facilities.
After a 30-day growing season, the fish are about 1-inch long and will be harvested from the ponds and stocked into land reservoirs all over the state of Georgia. The whole process is actually very quick.
Citizens can receive fish from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for a small fee. For information, visit website
Interestingly, the hatchery is the state’s sole producer of striped bass and hybrid striped bass. Hybrid striped bass are a cross between striped bass and white bass. These striped bass are stocked to provide unique and exciting fishery, and also control forage fish populations.
There is no natural reproduction of hybrid striped bass. The entire fishery is dependent on fry production at Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery.
In December 1946, Josh Kirkland was appointed the fish hatchery superintendent by the State Game and Fish Commission. Josh, his wife, Beulah, and their five children, Janine, Claudette, Dorothy, Joyce and Chipper moved to Richmond Hill in October 1947.
They moved from Stone Mountain in an old 1934 dump truck issued to him for use at the hatchery. Josh’s wife and children followed in a separate vehicle.
Pulling into the narrow dirt drive, the first things the family saw were tree limbs and debris strewn everywhere. During the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 12, 1947, an unnamed hurricane ravaged Savannah and nearby areas. It caused about $3 million in damages to Georgia.
Sam Davis was a meteorologist with the Savannah Weather Bureau at the time the hurricane hit. In his 31 years as a weatherman, Sam said, “I have never seen a hurricane behave like this one. The hurricane had already passed the Georgia coastline, reversed itself and came at us from the direction of North Carolina. It had sustained winds of 82 mph. It happened so fast, it caught us off guard.”
Although the old log cabin was spacious enough for the family of seven, there were many disadvantages. Daylight could be seen through cracks in the mortar between the logs. During winter, the rooms were very cold.
There were two fireplaces in the cabin, but they were not used. Josh had a woodpile in the backyard, which was used for the wood burning stove in the living room. That was the only source of heat during the cold months.
Janine Kirkland Darieng remembers her mama cooking on an old wood stove until they got one fueled by oil or kerosene. She said, “Our ice box was on the back porch. Jake Davis was our iceman then and delivered blocks of ice. Daddy eventually bought a refrigerator from Sears and Roebuck.”
Recalling the days at the fish hatchery is not hard for Janine. “Daddy had a mini-farm behind the cabin…we always had plenty of fresh vegetables,” she said. “We had a milk cow, pigs, chickens, two pretty white turkeys and a dog named Spot. He bought a mule we named Francis, which he used to help him plow the garden.
The things Josh couldn’t grow, he got at the local commissary. Besides groceries, they sold clothes and shoes. They allowed people to charge whatever they got during the month and settle up on payday.
Life was good at the hatchery. Janine continued reminiscing: “Sometimes Daddy would go frog-gigging in the ponds…Mama would batter the legs and fry them. Once Daddy killed an alligator and Mama fried the tail.”
Josh remained at this position until 1957. He and two assistants, Lloyd Harn and Arthur Pinkney, maintained the hatchery. When the state wanted to transfer him to the fish hatchery in Fitzgerald, Josh resigned for family reasons – he chose not to relocate.
Janine and her husband, Theron, still live in Richmond Hill. Speaking in a soft voice, she said, “No matter how many times I pass by the hatchery, I look up there and remember those years…a part of my heart is still there.”
Mr. Josh Kirkland died in December 2003.
Fast-forward 50 years from the days Josh Kirkland held the hatchery reins, and you will find young, dynamic Chris Harper, hatchery manager. He has been there for 13 years.
Chris is never too busy to share information about the fish and the hatchery. He said, “The staff here at the hatchery and at Demeries Creek are very passionate about the jobs we perform and we always welcome the opportunity to share what we do with the people of our great State.”
The hatchery has much to offer, including three nature trails, bird watching, parent and child fishing and tours.
Each year in June, the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery celebrates National Fishing and Boating Week by hosting a Kid’s Fishing Derby. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed each year in September with Outdoor Adventure Day. This includes a kids’ fishing event, archery, kayaking and hunting simulators. Around 300 children and their parents participate in these events each year.
One can believe Mr. Ivy Kassel and Mr. Josh Kirkland would readily say, “Chris, we’re proud of the job you’re doing.”
Shirley Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. You can reach her at

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