Understandably, several McKenzie River business owners have expressed their concerns about the potential economic impacts of removing hatchery programs. Since no definitive case studies were available, the McKenzie River Native Trout Coalition decided to interview business owners on the Metolius and Deschutes rivers, where hatchery trout have already been removed.
In all cases, business owners we spoke with said the net result was either positive for their bottom line or had no effect. One case in particular, that of Roger White, owner of the Camp Sherman Store, is very compelling:
Roger White bought the Camp Sherman Store in 1996. The last hatchery trout were planted in the Metolius River in August of 1995. Prior to his investment, Roger and his wife had been living in Hawaii. They didn’t know much about the Metolius or the area, but the store appeared to be a great investment on paper. The couple’s business plan was simply to re-tool the store to better serve area residents and tourists, and to provide excellent customer service.
Upon arrival in the valley, Roger started hearing complaints from a handful of anglers who predicted the end of fishing and business on the Metolius. One local fishing guide was almost run over by one of the area lodge owners. “A lot of people were really pissed at John,” said Roger. “He was the guy who stood up for the river. Took guts…people hated him.”
“Some folks were really upset about the new catch and release rules,” Roger explained. “We were nervous, mortgaged up to our eyeballs, so we tried to become informed. At first I was very skeptical. And it was hard to get good information, but finally we were directed to Bob Hooton at ODFW. He helped us understand what was going on. He and others came forward and assured us that the river would respond, and that we would end up having better fishing.”
“One interesting thing: that last year they put hatchery fish in here, they had a weir down at Billy Chinook where they monitored how many fish were migrating out of the Metolius and into the lake. Those hatchery fish were showing up way down at the lake after only a couple of days from being planted at Camp Sherman. It was obvious the fish weren’t even staying in the river for very long. They were usually shocked by the cold water and didn’t swim right. They just got flushed out.”
Roger had gross-sales numbers from the previous store owners. “We knew what they had done as far as business goes, and we beat those numbers by a good margin the first year. That was mostly due to tighter management. We stocked the store with the right things.” Then, Roger went on to grow the business steadily over the following several years. “Just a few percentage points a year, but we did quite well. We didn’t blow away like some had predicted. Neither did the rentals. We all did pretty well.”
Roger says fishing on the Metolius was terrible for the first two years after the plantings stopped. “It was really bad,” he says. “But by year three the fishing bounced back. By year four people were coming in the store bragging about all the big fish they were catching.” Today, Roger thinks the Metolius offers a great fishing experience. He remembers how he once saw anglers bunched up around the stocking truck, standing shoulder to shoulder. “These guys didn’t fish the river. They just went to the pools where they knew all those fish had been planted and they cast in the same spot over and over.”
Upon hearing about the controversy on the McKenzie, Roger had some interesting comments:
“Well, I can tell you the hatchery fish had major impacts on the Metolius. During the plantings, our wild trout population fell to near extinction. It took some time, but they came back, and now we have a healthy trout population.”
“I would think the guides could still offer a trout lunch for people. They just need to bring some store-bought trout. And I bet if they asked their clients, there’s probably a lot of folks who would rather have a burger. Or a sandwich. A lot of people aren’t too crazy about trout.”
“I don’t want to cast any kind of negative light on the guides. They’re just trying to make a living. But I can tell them there is a happy ending. The fish will come back. The river will recover and be better than it is now.”
“I’ll tell you another thing I realized about those hatchery fish. You know, people always take a few trout home, maybe the biggest one. Then they forget, and months later they find this freezer burned old thing and throw it out. It’s not a good use of a river to just waste fish like that. But with catch and release it just makes good business sense. Those fish are worth too much to throw away like that.”