When the pioneers began their migration to the western United States, there was no limit on how many fish they could catch or how big the fish had to be. It didn’t take long for the abundant fish populations to start to decline. In 1870, fish spawning stations began to appear, where fish eggs were collected and hatched. The fish were then stocked back into the waters that had declining populations. Many of these fabric structure spawning stations would eventually become fish hatcheries. In 1871, the U.S. Fish Commission was established, which would become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Fish Hatchery System. In 1872, the first federal fish hatchery, Baird Hatchery in California, was established.
Today, fish hatcheries can be found in every region of the United States. Some are part of the National Fish Hatchery System, which is a network of field stations that work with local, state and tribal governments, federal agencies, and foreign nations. Its goal is to support the conservation of native fish species. Other fish hatcheries are privately owned and operated. All are important and can fulfill many needs.
What Fish Hatcheries Do
Fish hatcheries are used to replace fish that were lost by human influences, such as pollution, over-harvest, dam construction, and habitat loss due to real estate developments, or that were lost to natural causes, such as flood, drought, and habitat destruction. Fish hatcheries are also used for:
• Repopulating endangered fish species.
• Providing research on fish disease.
• Restoring degraded habitats.
• Provide for the creation of new recreational fishing opportunities.
Without fish hatcheries, many species of fish would be extinct or endangered, such as the Pacific salmon, diminutive darters, lake trout, native western trout, and striped bass. That is only a partial listing of fish species that National Fish Hatchery System is working with in order to help with their conservation.
More Than Just Fish Farms
Fish hatcheries are more than just fish farms. Artificial breeding, hatching, and rearing occur in fish hatcheries, and in many cases, it’s more than just fish. Some hatcheries raise shrimp, Pacific oysters, Indian prawns, and scallops. In many of the National Fish Hatchery Systems fisheries, diverse research is underway by scientists in ecology, botany, fish culture, physiology, statistics, microbiology, and veterinary medicine. That research is also benefitting other species, such as salamanders, insects, freshwater mussels, and many plants.
Benefits of Fish Hatcheries
Private and state hatcheries provide many benefits, such as selling immature fish to private landowners for stocking ponds and lakes. For just about as long as we’ve been building farms, we’ve been stocking ponds fish. In addition, many hatcheries provide fish management services so that a balance can be achieved for between the varieties of fish and so each species can reach its full growth potential.
Fish hatcheries provide other benefits, too, and to many more people than just anglers. Over the ages from hatcheries are often sold as food. According to one study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, every dollar spent on rainbow trout hatcheries generates about $37 in economic value. There’s other less tangible gains, too. Kids take to the rivers for fat trout raised in a hatchery and later they are watershed conservation advocates. For critically endangered salmon populations, it’s possible that hatcheries may be the only answer to saving the species.
The Future of Fish Hatcheries
There is some controversy over fish hatcheries and fish farms; however, most hatcheries are providing significant benefits to the ecosystem and to humans. There is little doubt that these hatcheries will continue to be part of the U.S. landscape for many years to come.