Saturday, October 23, 2021

It's a fishy world for Somers hatchery manager

Daily Inter Lake | August 9, 2021 12:00 AM

In his words, Mark Kornick was "that guy." The one with all the questions, the one who lives for the minutiae.

"When I made my first trip to the Giant Springs Trout Hatchery as a kid, I thought it was just like a zoo, a place where they raised fish for people to see. … I had no idea they were raising fish to be stocked for people to catch," he said with a laugh.

Kornick quickly learned all those little salmonids were meant to be stocked into Montana streams, rivers and lakes.

Today, he manages the local fish hatchery just outside Somers for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"I never imagined this is what I'd be doing," Kornick said.

He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and when he was 5, the family moved to Great Falls. He had dalliances in California, Virginia and Georgia, but he and his family returned to Montana in 2007 for good.

"It was good to get back," Kornick said.

Kornick's fascination with wildlife led him to earn a bachelor's degree in fish and wildlife management at Montana State University.

He traveled to California for a bit, then returned to Great Falls to work part time at a fish hatchery in 1991. A full-time job at a hatchery in Lewistown brought him there later that year.

In part, Kornick credits taking a training and leadership course offered by the state for helping him get into management.

He stayed in Lewistown until 2004, when he went to Virginia to run a hatchery and then to Georgia for another gig running a hatchery that raised rainbow trout, catfish and even walleye.

IT WASN'T long, though, before Montana called him and his family home.

"They wanted a guy with experience in water quality and cold-water fish to open a new hatchery because the old one was nearly 100 years old," Kornick said.

The Flathead Lake Salmon Hatchery turned 100 in 2012.

"We said, 'Let's do it at Rose Creek,'" Kornick said. "It has great water there, the same as the bottling plant uses, and it's a perfect spot."

The budget for a new hatchery originally was $1.5 million but was slashed to just $200,000 when a large portion had to be spent to clean up the Big Springs hatchery in Lewistown after chemicals known as PCBs from paint used in the raceways were found in trout raised there.

"That required quite a bit of innovation," Kornick recalled.

Today, the Rose Creek Hatchery raises 150,000 westslope cutthroat trout, 150,000 grayling, 70,000 brook trout and 35,000 cutthroat and rainbow trout hybrids, also known as cut-bows.

The original hatchery is used for experimental work and currently is home to 6,000 growing brook trout.

Kornick, who led the operation to build the new, very plain hatchery, said he's become an inventor of sorts.

"It's pretty cool; we have to come up with tools that you can't buy in a store, so you design them, as well as techniques, to get the work done," Kornick said. "The water in this region in Northwest Montana is very sterile and doesn't have enough oxygen to raise fish, so that's another part of the process, making sure they get that because it's obviously critical."

KORNICK HAS seen a lot of change in the last 14 years in the way he does fish stocking work due to climate change.

"We used to not begin helicopter trout stocking of high mountain lakes until July because so many of them still had ice on them," he said. "But now we begin in June, and in July or August we may only be able to fly until 10 a.m. because it gets too hot and the extreme heat prevents helicopters from getting enough lift to do it safely.

"Depending on the heat, sometimes we have to suspend fish stocking in July or August and wait until September," Kornick said.

Kornick's work also includes collecting eggs from spawning fish, including kokanee salmon and grayling.

"We get about 1.8 million eggs from kokanee in Lake Mary Ronan and grayling eggs come from Rogers Lake," he said. "We raise most of the kokanee, about 1.3 million, but we ship another 500,000 to Washington, Idaho, California, Utah and even North Carolina to help populations in those states."

While wild trout remain a fascination for many, Kornick said about 80% of the fish swimming in Montana waterways are raised in hatcheries.

When he's not raising or stocking fish, Kornick is busy serving as a Kalispell Public Schools high school trustee representing Somers, Lakeside and Kila, and the lead singer in a local band, Ten Minutes Late.

He and his wife, Beth, have raised two children, Escher and Lilah. Escher is a 23-year-old musician and Lilah just graduated high school.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or