Across the country, state and federally owned hatcheries raise fish like rainbow trout that are placed in lakes and streams. Often, the fish are put in lakes where the fish can’t reproduce naturally.
In Montana, there are 10 state hatcheries that stock about 50 million fish each year into more than 830 lakes and reservoirs and about 23 rivers or streams. That’s a whole bunch of fish.
The idea has been to provide more fish for anglers to catch. That’s great for a lot of folks. Anglers have a chance to spend time fishing with family and friends outdoors, and can even catch fresh fish for a tasty and healthy dinner. Money that the anglers spend on everything from gas and hotel rooms to hooks, boats and bait creates jobs for businesses.
There has been a debate for a long time, though, about whether planting hatchery-raised fish is bad for rivers, streams and some of the other fish. This is especially true where hatcheries raise steelhead and salmon in states like Washington.
The idea behind the steelhead and salmon hatcheries was to provide more of the fish as their populations dropped, mainly because of all of the dams that block their natural migration to the ocean. But some people worry that all of those hatchery salmon and steelhead hurt the naturally reproducing fish.
One group of scientists decided to look at rainbow trout that are raised in hatcheries compared to wilder rainbow trout. They wanted to see which of the two was the faster swimmer. In the wild, it’s important for fish to avoid other animals that eat them. To do that, they have to be able to swim quickly away and hide when they see an otter or eagle.
What the scientists found out was that the wilder fish were faster, although the hatchery fish grew more quickly. So hatcheries, it seems, are providing another benefit, too – feeding lots of wild fish eaters.