Skip to main content

Trout Stewardship in America

The national fish hatchery system is more than a century old. What is it doing now to ensure the health of trout and other species in the decades to come?

Trout Stewardship in America

Now more than a century old, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Hatchery System began as an initiative to restore fish populations. Today, they continue that service through multi-species restocking programs across the country. (Shutterstock image)

In 1871, concerned about the nation's declining recreational and commercial fisheries, Congress passed a joint resolution establishing the U.S. Fish Commission to investigate the causes of the declines and to develop and oversee restoration efforts. By the late 1890s and early 1900s, with fisheries in the Great Lakes and America's rivers still failing to rebound, the Commission—renamed the United States Bureau of Fisheries in 1903—began building national hatcheries to help restore fish populations.

That system of fish hatcheries, created more than 100 years ago, is still in operation; today they are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). One hatchery, Vermont’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery, which opened in 1906, was home to some of the early work by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to develop fish-rearing procedures for a number of fish species.

"From 1925 to 1940, the hatchery was an experimental station focusing on culturing new species, fish nutrition and selective breeding," says Lowell Whitney, acting Assistant Regional Director for the USFWS Fisheries and Habitat Conservation program. "The hatchery raised California golden trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, Loch Levlen trout, lake trout, brook trout, Arctic char and Arctic grayling."

MODERN-DAY MANAGEMENT

Today, fish hatcheries in the Northeast produce three species of trout: lake trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout. The lake trout and brook trout are native to the Northeast, while the rainbow trout is native to the Pacific Coast. The main focus of northeastern hatcheries is raising and restoring native fish in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain and inland and coastal rivers, with a lesser focus on helping other hatcheries in areas with rainbow trout.


"We raise rainbow trout broodfish at the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery in West Virginia, which are used to produce eggs that we ship to other state and tribal hatcheries," Whitney said. "The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery produces and ships nine million disease-free rainbow trout eggs annually to four tribes and eleven states across the country. That effort supports their recreational fishing programs, mitigates the loss of native fisheries due to federal water projects and supports our tribal trust responsibilities."


Fish are tested to ensure their health. "The Lamar Fish Health Center at the Northeast Fishery Center in Pennsylvania, is critical to ensuring the health of fish maintained in our hatcheries and the health of wild native fisheries," Whitney says. "They implement the National Wild Fish Health Survey, and regularly test fish raised in our national and state fish hatcheries to ensure that only healthy fish and disease-free eggs are shipped or stocked into our public waters."

Most fish being produced by hatcheries in the Northeast are used to augment naturally reproducing populations and to rebuild depleted native fish and aquatic species. "The goal is to restore self-sustaining populations that support healthy ecosystems and support valued recreational and commercial fisheries," Whitney says. "For example, the Great Lakes fishery is worth more than $7 billion annually and supports more than 75,000 jobs. Anglers come from all over the globe to fish the Great Lakes for any number of species, including the largest trout native to the Great Lakes, the lake trout."

SUSTAINABLE POPULATIONS

Helping sustainable populations of lake trout recover from their depleted condition has been the goal of an extensive and long-standing collaboration between the U.S., Canada and tribal governments in the Great Lakes region. Through hatchery propagation, habitat restoration and applied research, lake trout populations are improving. These programs include the continuous stocking of lake trout in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

"We stock young fish, usually yearlings, which grow to a catchable size in the lakes," Whitney says. "We also stock native prey fishes in the Great Lakes. Our hatcheries and fish health centers are working with state, tribal and Canadian resource agencies to restore cisco and bloater, which play critical roles as food for top predatory fish such as lake trout."


The Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Pennsylvania has been rearing four strains of lake trout for stocking in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario since 2011. "The Allegheny hatchery currently stocks 320,000 trout in Lake Ontario and 240,000 in Lake Erie, annually," Whitney says. "Allegheny also supplies the state of Pennsylvania with about 2,400 pounds of their surplus lake trout, which the state uses in their inland recreational fishing programs."

The Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in Vermont stocks 80,000 trout annually in Lake Ontario. The Berkshire National Fish Hatchery in Massachusetts and the White River National Fish Hatchery in Vermont raise heritage strains of lake trout for brood fish so they can supply other federal hatcheries with lake trout eggs, which then are grown out for stocking in the Great Lakes.

A UNIFIED EFFORT

The primary goal of hatcheries as a conservation tool is to get fish populations back to levels where they are self-sufficient in their native habitats and no longer need stocking. For the success of the hatchery program, all of the habitats where the fish are being stocked need to be in good condition, including riparian, wetland, lake and upland habitats. The water must be cold, clean and connected to other waters that are free of barriers to movement and migration and free of non-native invasive species that may suppress or outcompete native species.


"The Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working across programs with landowners, states, tribes and a range of conservation partners in the Northeast to sustain native fish and aquatic species and ensure they have resilient habitats that help them thrive both now and in the future," Whitney says. "We’re also committed to connecting people to nature, and healthy fisheries provide boundless recreational opportunities for anglers and everyone else who enjoys the outdoors. Our hatcheries are one important tool in helping us achieve both of these goals.”

Note: This article first appeared in the May 2020 East edition of Game & Fish Magazine.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Michael Cassidy and Paul Pluff talk about their elk hunt in New Mexico using the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter.

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Most fishing rods feature both an action and a power rating, but what do those ratings mean and how do you use them to select the right rod for different scenarios? In this video, outdoor writer and tackle specialist Shane Beilue breaks down the difference between a rod blank’s action and power and discusses what the various ratings of each mean.

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers.3 Proven Bait Rigs for Stripers Striper & Hybrid

3 Proven Bait Rigs for Stripers

J.B. Kasper

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers.

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From tumblers to bottles to flasks (and even clever bottle openers), we've rounded up some of the best bar gear for the outdoors.Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup The Deck

Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup

Chelsie Walters and Jessyca Sortillon - August 31, 2020

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From...

Make this venison chorizo recipe and cook it right away or freeze it (cooked or raw) and use it as needed.Venison Chorizo Recipe Wild Game

Venison Chorizo Recipe

Allie Doran - October 30, 2020

Make this venison chorizo recipe and cook it right away or freeze it (cooked or raw) and use...

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the grill, for a smokin' hot take on this comfort food classic.Smoked Venison Chili Recipe Wild Game

Smoked Venison Chili Recipe

Eva Shockey - October 16, 2020

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the...

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation & Politics

Inside look at how hunting, fishing and land-management priorities are established, and how they will be pursued the next four years.10 Priorities for the Conservation Roadmap Ahead Conservation & Politics

10 Priorities for the Conservation Roadmap Ahead

Andrew McKean - December 28, 2020

Inside look at how hunting, fishing and land-management priorities are established, and how...

Op/Ed from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.Gun Control Low on Voters' Wish List for Biden, Congress Conservation & Politics

Gun Control Low on Voters' Wish List for Biden, Congress

Elizabeth McGuigan - December 11, 2020

Op/Ed from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Second-Amendment perspective by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.NSSF: Firearm-Friendly Freshmen Class Reports for Duty Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Firearm-Friendly Freshmen Class Reports for Duty

Larry Keane - January 07, 2021

Second-Amendment perspective by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

H.R. 38 would end patchwork of confusing gun laws for CC permit holders.NSSF: Thumbs Up to Concealed Carry Reciprocity Legislation Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Thumbs Up to Concealed Carry Reciprocity Legislation

National Shooting Sports Foundation - January 05, 2021

H.R. 38 would end patchwork of confusing gun laws for CC permit holders.

See More Conservation & Politics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now