Setzer fish hatchery project
Setzer fish hatchery project aerial
Setzer fish hatchery pisgah mountains aerial

Collaborative Designs are Underway at Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery

North Carolina’s biggest coldwater hatchery

The Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery is preparing for major renovations and improvements with the help of McGill. Located in Transylvania County within the Pisgah National Forest, Setzer is one of three coldwater hatcheries in North Carolina. Together, the hatcheries produce over half a million brook, brown, and rainbow trout each year, which are released into streams, rivers, and lakes of 15 western North Carolina counties. A part of the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission’s (NCWRC) Trout Waters Program, Setzer is the state’s largest fish hatchery.[1]Pisgah center for wildlife education | bobby n. Setzer state fish hatchery

Throughout the Tar Heel state, there are thousands of miles of waters that are conducive to wild trout surviving on their own. However, other waters get too warm for trout to reproduce during the summer months, so the coldwater hatchery trout are used to stock waters seasonally and extend the fishing season.[2]

Return on Investment

“This agency, the staff, and all of production gets funded directly by those excise taxes and through direct license sales, as well as money from the North Carolina legislature,” said Doug Besler, Mountain Region Fisheries Supervisor, NCWRC, during a recent interview with Carolina ALL OUT. “It costs us a little over a million dollars a year to raise all these trout and it returns over 383 million dollars to the state. So, that’s quite a return on investment.”[3]

Bobby n. Setzer fish hatcheryThe state’s fishing industry not only brings in revenue through license sales, but also provides 3,600 statewide jobs. Two thirds of the state’s trout are grown at the Setzer Hatchery, making the facility imperative to North Carolina’s economy.[4]

Renovation, efficiency, and capacity needs

The Setzer Hatchery was built in the fifties and underwent renovations in the nineties. Not only is expected upkeep a part of the hatchery needs, but also improved operational efficiency and increased production capacity are necessary as NCWRC’s production needs have grown.

“The Setzer Fish Hatchery is both a renovation project as well as an increase in production project,” said Kyle Seaman, PE, McGill Project Manager. “It is exceeding its original capacity right now, so we will be helping increase its capacity. This will improve the quality of production and allow for a more consistent, reliable source of fish.”

Schematic designs

Bobby n. Setzer fish hatchery

Ben Cathey, PE, McGill Senior Project Manager, said that his team is currently working on the schematic design, which will be completed in early March. At that point, NCWRC must finalize its funding for the remainder of the project.

The schematic design for the site includes survey, evaluation of flood information, existing infrastructure location and capacity, and discussions with facility staff on specific layout of well treatment, as well as administration and hatchery buildings.

Creating Solutions

While designing and working on this exciting project, McGill’s engineers will tackle many intricate problems. Through surface area diversions, water is supplied from the Davidson River and Grogan Creek to the hatchery. A major challenge will be designing how to pull water from up the river and – without the use of pumps – have it flow into the hatchery, through the facility, and then exit out back into the river.

“Hydraulics have been the most challenging issue with this project,” Seaman said. “The water flowing through the hatchery is not reliant on power, so the system needs to work, whether its powered on or not. This requires very detailed calculations that must be checked by multiple engineers. Since gravity only works one way, there’s no room for mistakes.”

Protecting the harvest

Dji 0982It will be imperative to the hatchery to make sure the water will consistently and continually flow through the facility so that there is no risk of killing the fish. Seaman explained that if water flow was to stop for even ten minutes, the year’s entire harvest of fish could be lost, showing the critical need to ensure every step is executed without error.

McGill is honored to be a part of this significant project that will affect not only the hatchery, itself, but also the surrounding counties and the state, as a whole.

Learn more about the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at To read about McGill’s civil engineering services, visit



2. Douglas, Chris. Carolina ALL OUT. “Stocking Trout in North Carolina.” YouTube: N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission. August 27, 2019.

3. Douglas, Chris. Carolina ALL OUT. “Stocking Trout in North Carolina.” YouTube: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. August 27, 2019.

4: Responsive Management and Southwick Associates. “Mountain Trout Fishing: Economic Impacts on and Contributions to North Carolina’s Economy.” 2015.


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