RIVERDALE The man responsible for watching and caring for millions of fish has reached the end of his career at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery near Riverdale.
Jon Gravning, the hatchery's cold water species specialist, stepped away from his job May 21. Gravning had been at the Riverdale hatchery for 14 years, nearly all of it in the trout and salmon building.
"The trout and salmon work is busy work," said Gravning. "You have to take care of the fish. It's like a farm with live animals. You just can't walk away from them and say I'll be back in a week."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN •
Jon Gravning has been caring for fish at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery for 14 years. His last day on the job was Friday.
Gravning began his career at the Garrison Dam Hatchery following 20 years of experience as a fish biologist, most of it overseeing trout production in Montana. Taking over the trout and salmon operation in North Dakota was a natural progression.
"We're going to miss him," said Rob Holm, hatchery project leader. "He has lots of knowledge underneath his belt in salmonids and brood stock. We'll miss his presence here for sure."
Gravning, a native of Innis, Mont., and his wife are returning to the Flathead Lake area of Big Sky country. He'll have some property improvements to take care of and then hopes to do some horseback riding in between trips to the local sporting clays range and outings with remote control airplane enthusiasts. Eventually, he says, he'll get around to another passion fishing.
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"I haven't done much in the past five years or so, but I really like fishing. It's more fun to get them on the end of a pole than it is to net them!" said Gravning, laughing.
During Gravning's time at the Garrison Dam Hatchery, the staff has been reduced and the production quotas have increased. There's occasionally some time to catch up between off seasons, but otherwise the fish-raising business remains fairly constant. Trout and salmon are kept in indoor raceways throughout the winter, a situation that requires a biologist to also know how to handle a wrench.
"The day to day routine is like any other job. The first thing I do every day is clean raceways and refill feeders. Then I do the maintenance on things, make sure that the mechanical part of the operation is working properly. There's a variety of work here, paperwork, too," said Gravning.
Jimmy Carter was president when Gravning first put on his insignia for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He thinks there are still opportunities for young biologists looking for a career, but also says there might be more competition for positions. Still, he says, the job of a fish biologist is fun work.
North Dakota, notes Gravning, is much different than most states in that the federal fish hatchery receives half its funding from the state. That means the hatchery is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
"The situation here is really unique. North Dakota doesn't have any hatchery of their own. We meet their requests and they pay half the funding," said Gravning. "In other states it's kind of a turf war and there's always a little animosity between state and federal fisheries guys. It's better here and a little unique. We're kind of working as a team and I think it really works nice here."
Gravning has been one of the big reasons why the cooperative effort has been so successful. He annually accepted the challenges of meeting the trout and salmon goals set by the state.
"He's met all the requests that came across his desk and has been good to work with. Jon knows his job well," said Jerry Tishmack, fellow biologist who has worked alongside Gravning at the Garrison Dam Hatchery.
A replacement biologist has already been working at the hatchery. He has been getting some on-the-job training from Gravning, everything from fish-raising tips to how to deal with the mechanical features of the salmon building.
"In Montana we had 54 degree spring water all year round," said Gravning. "Here, we have to heat water in the winter and inject oxygen into it in the summer."
Despite his dedicated work, most North Dakota fishermen probably won't notice that Gravning has moved on. The hatchery will continue to produce salmon and trout, but it will take many years before the number of fish raised and released under Gravning's care will be matched. In the meantime, the biologist who spent so many years peering into hatchery tanks in North Dakota will likely be found on the banks of a trout stream in Montana.