NEW CASTLE, Va. (WFXR) — Hot temperatures and dry conditions in early August caused the flow of a natural spring that feeds a trout farming operation to drop. That drop led to a massive fish kill that is affecting operations at the Smoke in Chimneys farm in Craig County.
“We lost about 8,000 fish over the course of three to four days,” said Smoke in Chimneys owner, Ty Walker. “Those were our fish that were going to be our fall-winter harvest.”
Walker says when the spring flow dropped it triggered a series of problems that cascaded into the fish kill. Walker says the fragility of the very thing that makes his operation special, the spring that sustains his hatchery and rearing ponds, was also what caused it to fail. He says that is one of the risks of going all-natural and raising fish the way he thinks they should be raised for the highest quality.
“We’re using artesian spring water that’s gravity fed,” Walker said as he explained how his system works. “There’s no pumps, nothing artificial going on here. When you base your system on that, sometimes the natural systems don’t cooperate.”
Walker is making repairs, digging and dredging ponds, and rearing more fish that will be ready for market in about a month.
Smoke in Chimneys sells its trout directly to consumers, as well as to local stores and restaurants. The rainbow trout is prized by local chefs. Walker estimates losses at about $20,000. With farm profit margins razor thin, he says it hurts. However, neighbors, friends, other farmers, local businesses, and even complete strangers rallying to support Smoke in Chimneys.
Some trout were able to be saved and processed when the spring flow fell. Volunteers from the Teen Challenge in Fincastle worked to help clean those fish. The organization sent 16 volunteers to the Smoke in Chimneys to help out.
“They helped for like three days cleaning and gutting fish,” said Walker. “It was humbling, man.”
A GiveSendGo account has been set up to benefit Walker and his family. Two local businesses are holding fundraisers to benefit Smoke in Chimneys. Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar in Wasena will hold a special fundraiser on Thursday, Aug. 31 with a portion of money raised going to the Walker family. On Friday, Sept. 1, Gladheart Wine and Brews in Roanoke will hold a special winetasting to benefit Smoke in Chimneys.
Walker says with the support, Smoke in Chimneys will make it.
“When you have a farm product like this, a really good, quality farm product is fragile,” said Walker. “We’re committed to our process, and it was a pretty big blow, but we’re going to recover.”