Kurt Eversman has been raising fish since he was 8 years old. And at the age of 33, he hasn’t stopped yet.
An Ohio native, Eversman has brought his talents and enthusiasm for preserving the state’s aquatic life to Orangeburg as the new manager of the Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery, which could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in the community, is a federally supported facility that occupies approximately 250 acres.
As one of two federally supported hatcheries in South Carolina -- the other being on Wadmalaw Island -- the fish hatchery has played a vital role in preserving the state’s aquatic life and one of its most popular recreational activities: fishing.
“I’m originally from Toledo, Ohio. I got into this field by raising aquarium fish in my parents’ basement, and it grew into a company. When I turned 18 and graduated from high school, my mom said, ‘You’re going to college and putting your fish business on hold.’ So I searched for a school where I could go and learn more about making fish,” Eversman said.
His work in raising fish has taken him all over the country, including New Mexico, Idaho, Texas, Arizona and most recently North Dakota.
“I have been learning by doing at each of these places that I’ve been. I’ve spent the last 15 years doing that, and it’s brought me to Orangeburg. I’m really excited to be a part of the station. It’s got a huge amount of potential,” Eversman said.
He is also grateful to be in a nicer climate.
“North Dakota has been in a blizzard where they were getting 18 inches of snow and 55-mph winds. I say, ‘No, thank you,’ to that,” he said, laughing.
Eversman said his short-term goals include enhancing the station’s infrastructure.
The hatchery has two units. The main station is located on Lakeview Drive just outside the city limits of Orangeburg, while the substation is on Cannon Bridge Road south of Orangeburg.
“I’m enhancing the station’s infrastructure to prepare it to meet the needs of the public going forward, or in the next five years. Right now I’m really kind of bringing my team together and we’re doing a lot of projects in-house,” Eversman said.
“I think the most eye-popping thing right now is the renovation of the ponds at the substation in Cordova. Then we’ve got some projects going on with essentially each of the buildings. We’re making improvements,” he said.
To help enlighten the public on the importance of preservation and conservation, the hatchery sponsors tours and special fishing days for kids, senior citizens and those with special needs.
“We have a visitor’s center (with aquarium) that’s open to the public and where we talk about what our role is in the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service,” Eversman said, noting that while enhancing the facility’s infrastructure is a priority, he will also be fostering community outreach and public education.
“When I was at the last station, I was really involved with community outreach, but it took me several years to get enhancements done to where the station was making a ridiculous amount of fish, which increased our funding. That allowed us to have additional funding to do outreach when everything was fixed and the infrastructure was improved,” he said.
At the station where he worked in North Dakota, he brought in kids’ international-style archery for children of all ages, the sort of activities he said he’d like to bring to the Orangeburg station.
“We did a lot of really cool things,” Eversman said.
Established in 1911, the Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery is dedicated to supporting the conservation, protection and enhancement of endangered and recreational fish species and their habitats.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website reports that the local hatchery is part of a network of more than 70 federal fish hatcheries located across the country that help make up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery System.
The hatchery works in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, including other federal and state natural resource agencies, local governments, universities, landowners, community organizations and others.
The Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery produces a variety of warm-water freshwater fish, including: striped bass (South Carolina’s state fish), redbreast sunfish, American shad and lake sturgeon. The fish are stocked annually in reservoirs, lakes, rivers and coastal streams across the Southeastern United States. In addition to fish, the hatchery also has a production program for the critically endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussel.
“Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery is responsible for raising fish which are stocked into public waters for recovery,” including Lake Murray, Lake Marion and the North and South forks of the Edisto River, Eversman said.
“Our primary goal is to make fish for the public, but we are also involved with outreach and education to the local and surrounding community,” he said.
By hosting special events throughout the year for youth, special needs groups and senior citizens, the hatchery promotes the increased quality of life and conservation benefits provided by healthy fisheries.
“Once a year we have a free fishing day when the community is able to come out and fish in some of our fishing ponds. That is June 9, 2018. We have about 20 fish ponds,” Eversman said.
He said his mission is to make a positive difference within the community, including teaching its youngest citizens about the importance of nature and conservation.
“At every station that I’ve been throughout the United States, that’s something that’s always been near and dear to me. If we don’t provide public education, folks don’t know what we do and then we don’t inspire the future generations of conservationists,” he said.
The Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery conducts tours from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend and special group tours of the hatchery can be arranged by calling the hatchery office at 803-534-4828 during regular business hours. More information on the hatchery is also available at www.fws.org/orangeburg.
From it's start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge has owed its existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. Some of these citizens have focused their engagement in conservation through refuge Friends organizations, now totaling more than 200 across the country with an estimated 40,000 members.
Friends organizations are 501-C3 nonprofit organizations with the unique distinction of having a mission supporting a single refuge, complex of refuges or a program of the Fish and Wildlife Service, including fish hatcheries.
Eversman said the faciity is in the "infancy stage" of developing its own Friends organization which will help build links between the hatchery and its community.
The Friends organization would partner with the hatchery to do several things, including conduct public events, teach the community about conservation, coordinate volunteers and raise funds.
Eversman said anyone interested in learning more about the development of a Friends group, or how they can be a part of helping to support the Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery's mission, can call the hatchery office at 803-534-4828 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.