Kolecki swims upstream to become DOW hatchery chief

Todd Malmsbury
Colorado Division of Wildlife
Post Independent photo/Kelley Cox

Rich Kolecki, the manager of the Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery on Mitchell Creek, has been named the Colorado Division of Wildlife hatchery chief.

Native species recovery, continuing efforts to combat whirling disease, and the effects of drought and wildfires on fish production will be the top issues he will deal with.

Kolecki will oversee 20 facilities and manage 88 employees in the statewide system. He succeeds Eric Hughes, who is now state aquatic wildlife manager.

Kolecki has worked for the DOW for the past 23 years, the last 20 as a manager and assistant manager at the Glenwood Springs Hatchery, where he and the fish in his care have survived two wildfires and a major mudslide.

As part of his new duties, he will oversee a hatchery system that has merged with aquatic management, aquatic research, and fish health functions to form the DOW aquatic section.

“One of my challenges is to make sure we come together in a positive manner,” Kolecki said. “I feel I have a good understanding of the field operation processes and the needs of the individuals working out there.”

Born in South Bend, Ind., Kolecki moved to Colorado in 1974 to attend Colorado State University. He graduated from CSU with a degree in fishery and wildlife management in 1977.

He and his wife, Laura, have two sons, Rick, 23, on active duty with the Army, and Matthew, 20, a CSU student who is majoring in natural resource management.

“I am pleased that we were able to recruit such a high-quality candidate into this position,” said Hughes, who is Kolecki’s supervisor. “He has a lot of knowledge of our hatchery system and knows how to raise high-quality fish. He’s well accepted by hatcheries staff. They all know him and will support him from the field.”

In his new position, Kolecki faces many challenges in ensuring the long-term health and welfare of Colorado’s fish populations. He will manage a team of hatchery technicians charged with rearing and distributing fish in lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams around the state.

He and his staff will oversee efforts to conserve the native cutthroat trout, the Colorado pikeminnow, and various other species of endangered or threatened fish.

Another goal that lies ahead is a major effort to recover native fish species, including greenback, Colorado River, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations. The three subspecies are the only ones native to Colorado.

“We’re trying to develop captive brood stocks,” Kolecki said. “The hatchery system is deeply invested in the project.”

They also will work on mitigating the effects of whirling disease, drought and wildfires.

While managing the Glenwood Springs Hatchery, Kolecki got a close-up view of how nature can adversely affect operations.

In the weeks following the Coal Seam Fire in 2002, hatchery workers were forced to shut off flows out of nearby Mitchell Creek after mudslides and ash sediment muddied the water. The wildfire had scorched hillsides in the area, destroying vegetation and leaving waterways and fish vulnerable.

Last year’s wildfires and the ongoing drought have forced hatchery personnel into overdrive to protect fish populations. Some state hatcheries had to contend with a decrease in water flows last year due to the drought, one of the worst dry spells in state history.

“These guys are on the front line,” Kolecki said of his statewide hatchery staff.

Despite the challenges, hatchery personnel were able to help provide a quality fishing experience in Colorado this year. This year, the state has received more moisture, water flows have started to come back, and hatchery officials are optimistic that fish will benefit.

Fish Hatchery facts

– In 2003, Colorado hatcheries produced 2.4 million catchable and 16 million sub-catchable brook, brown, and rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon, along with 65 million walleyes, catfish, bass, blue gill, and crappies.

– Of the state’s 20 hatcheries, 11 are now certified free of whirling disease

– Fishing adds about $900 million to the Colorado economy each year.

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