Hatchery Trout Hurt

As regular readers know, we recently took our campaign against planter trout in the Mckenzie to the next level with the publication an opinion piece by Matt and Chris in the Register Guard suggesting that it is time to move towards managing the Mckenzie for wild fish.

Most people, myself included (until recently) haven’t realized the full extent of the harm to native fish populations caused by stocking hatchery trout. My research uncovered a 1982 (I believe) paper by E. Richard Vincent of the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife entitled ‘The Effects of Stocking Catchable-Sized Hatchery Trout on Wild Trout in the Madison River and O’Dell Creek, Montana.’ You don’t have to make it far into the document to be amazed. I think I’ll let Mr. Vincent do the talking:


Fall wild populations of two-year-old and older brown and rainbow trout increased 159% and 868% in number and 160% and 1016% in total biomass respectively, four years after the last catchable-sized hatchery rainbow trout was stocked in the Varney section of the Madison river. Brown trout increases peaked within two years after stocking of catchables had ceased, whereas wild rainbow trout biomass levels were still showing increases four years after the last stocking. Wild brown and rainbow trout between 10.0-17.9 inches showed the greatest increases when stocking ceased.

I can’t stand 17.9 inch trout trout, can you? Meanwhile . . . .

When catchable-sized hatchery trout were stocked for three consecutive years into a previously unstocked section of O’Dell Creek, the number of two-year-old and older wild brown trout population was reduced 49% in total number and biomass. Wild brown trout between 10.0 and 17.9 inches showed significant declines in number after stocking was initiated, whereas those smaller than 10 inches showed no significant change in numbers.

In the most recent assessment of wild trout on the Mckenzie River, 257 of 307 fish tagged were under 10 inches. Hmmm. This sounds consistent with Vincent’s findings. None of this information is unknown to our local fish managers, the Madison River/ O’Dell Creek fieldwork was performed between 1966 and 1972. Meanwhile in 2009 on the Mckenzie we are dumping 140,000 or so eight inch planters into what could be a fantastic fishery.

Could it be that we’ve been stocking the Mckenzie for so long we’ve forgotten what it could be? I think it’s time to find out.–KM

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17 Responses to Hatchery Trout Hurt

  1. Rob R says:

    The Deschutes and Metolius are also great case studies. The verdict is in: catchable trout SUCK. Get them out of the McKenzie now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Dave R says:

    Ban the bait fishing in McKenzie. Single hook barbless lure/fly, catch and release only. Stop the plant and take on the McKenzie and see what happens in about 7-10 years.

  3. steve says:

    Maybe we should plant 18″planters?

    Just kidding Karl….

  4. David Jensen says:

    I live at Brown’s Hole on the McKenzie. I can catch a real fish at last light. I do not boat and fish Blue River- Hendricks because of the lack of real fish. I fish Olallie to Blue River or below Hendricks for that reason. I have already posted on this, but repeat. A major problem in reintroducing wild fish is to get the McKenzie River Guides Association on board. Join if you are a guide, or as an associate member; you need a sponsor. I’ll sponsor you on that alone. The water between Blue River is deep, cold, has lots of big rocks, and would be a great real trout fishery.

  5. rick says:

    Hatchery fish are no longer planted in the Middle Fork of the Willamette below Oakridge. And bait fishing is not allowed. In the opinion of the readers, has fishing improved?

  6. rick says:

    I might just add that in reading my question about the fishery below Oakridge, it sounds as if I am for planting hatchery fish. I am definitely not. I am just curious how the fishery has changed since they stopped planting and quit allowing bait fishing. I don’t think I’ve seen a dramatic improvement but I must admit I’m not the best fly fisher around!

  7. scott kinney says:

    Indeed it has. What’s more apparent fishing that section is that it has an appropriate age-class distribution of trout… on any given day, you can catch fish anywhere from 4″ to 24″.

    The McKenzie, especially the middle stocked sections, doesn’t exhibit nearly the diversity of the MFW.

  8. rick says:

    Actually, now that I think more about it, I’m not sure they ever put planters in the Middle Fork below Oakridge. OK, I’ll be quiet now………..

  9. David Jensen says:

    When I wrote my comment, I didn’t know my neighbor and friend, Steve Schaefers, was submitting a guest editorial to the Register Guard in opposition to Chris and Matt’s earlier piece. It is in the 10/7 paper. Unfortunately, the McKenzie River Guides Association remains committed to planted fish below Blue River.

  10. Craig Heaton says:

    It’s time for some of the local fly fishing clubs to join this effort to stop the stocking of hatchery trout. Hard to believe they (the clubs) don’t want to protect the rivers in their back yard!

    And for a fly fishing club to even suggest using bait…………..


  11. Karl Mueller says:

    I nicely (by my standards), responded to that editorial piece. I’d encourage any of you to do likewise.

    Craig-our local TU is on it. We’d love some of the other groups to come on board.

  12. Sam W. says:

    The ill effects of hatchery fish on “wild” stocks is well published and has been well known to fisheries management for decades. It is only recently that some of this information is now reaching general public readership. While we can, at least to some extent, repair habitat, reduce harvest levels, and even remove hydroelectric facilities, once the gene pool is eroded there is no getting it back. It is certainly debatable whether there are any native stocks left with which to rebuild the gene pools. A “wild” fish is any fish that is of non-hatchery origin, regardless of its parentage. The thing about hatchery stocks is that they will stray, and the evolutionary success of salmonids is in large part due to there propensity to stray.

  13. Rob R says:

    I heard that Ziller considers this a social issue, not a biological one. What he means is that ODFW considers the current management plan sufficiently protective for McKenzie rainbows, while still offering the catchable program. This brings up what I see as the main point here: management of the McKenzie should be led by the ESA, protecting wild spring chinook. A comprehensive approach would include the elimination of all hatchery influences from the river. To the department, the current argument is just noise, and they’ll swing with the wind. So we can get what we want by being the loudest voice, getting the most signatures, etc. Whereas, if the argument becomes statutory/biological, especially related to the ESA, it might be taken more seriously.

  14. Bill S says:

    Just in case your response doesn’t get published, curious to read it. Could you post it here.?

  15. Karl Mueller says:

    Sure. Some of it is a rehash of this post:

    This opinion piece demonstrates that people of goodwill can agree on certain goals and disagree as to how we get there. I agree with Mr. Schaefers that it is important get kids outside and to introduce them to enjoyable outdoor experiences. Where myself (and many others) diverge with Mr. Schaefers’ viewpoint as well as that of the Mckenzie River Guides Association is what management actions are necessary to ensure an enjoyable outdoor experience and what lessons those management actions teach our kids once we get them outside.

    Hatchery trout do much more harm to native trout populations than most people realize:

    “Fall wild populations of two-year-old and older brown and rainbow trout increased 159% and 868% in number and 160% and 1016% in total biomass respectively, four years after the last catchable-sized hatchery rainbow trout was stocked in the Varney section of the Madison river . . . [W]ild rainbow trout biomass levels were still showing increases four years after the last stocking. Wild brown and rainbow trout between 10.0-17.9 inches showed the greatest increases when stocking ceased . . . . “ (‘The Effects of Stocking Catchable-Sized Hatchery Trout on Wild Trout in the Madison River and O’Dell Creek, Montana.’ E. Richard Vincent of the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife, 1982.)

    In other words, if we stop stocking the Mckenzie within four years it is likely that the number of wild rainbow trout will increase by up to 1100% and biomass may increase by as much as 1175%. I have added the numbers of the Montana study for browns and rainbows as our Mckenzie fish do not have to compete with brown trout. With 11 times as many wild fish and 12 times the biomass with the largest increase in trout between 10 and 17.9 inches, I think children and people of all ability levels could still have an enjoyable experience without stocking. The piece by Daughters and Stansberry only proposed eliminating stocking in a limited area to see how the wild fish respond. This is not a radical notion.

    As noted, I agree with getting our kids and beginners outdoors but think the lesson they should be taught is to enjoy nature within sustainable boundaries. The hatchery put-and- take program in the antithesis of sustainability. It teaches our kids to be takers and to live beyond their means.

    As Schaefers notes, there are healthy populations of native trout below Hayden Bridge and above Forest Glenn, however not in the “sacrifice zone” in the words of our district biologist. These areas with healthy populations are termed “refuges.” Given how well wild trout do in the absence of hatchery fish, there is no need to limit them to refuge areas.

  16. Brent says:

    Thanks Karl!

    When my two boys are old enough to really start fishing it would be great if the McKenzie wasn’t artificially altered for the worse. I want my boys to understand that fish on the McKenzie do not need to be raised in concrete pools and then trucked and dumped into a river…

  17. scott kinney says:

    And mine… maybe a little more pissy than Karl’s… but hey, that’s what happens when you open a comment section on an editorial piece, no?


    The Guides’ Association derives direct economic benefit from the fish being stocked in the McKenzie. Hundreds of thousands of hatchery fish crammed into select fishing holes prove to be easy targets for their clients. Clients catch fish, and clients are happy. Not surprisingly, the Guides do not want to see their hatchery trout cash cow disappear.

    All angling licenseholders in the state, as well as every member of the taxpaying public (most stocking dollars are from federal flood control project remediation), pay for the fish stocked in the McKenzie.

    Yet the only party that has direct input into the inner workings of the McKenzie stocking program is the Guides’ Association. In a January closed-door meeting with ODFW, they decide when / where to stock trout in the McKenzie. The Guides then conduct the stockings themselves by boat. Not coincidentally, the majority of fish are planted far from bank accesses, parks, etc. in areas that are inaccessible to the non-boating public. When guides run trips, they direct their clients when/where to fish…likely, where they themselves stocked the fish the previous day/week/month. This system appears to preserve the maximum number of fish for guides’ clients – not to equitably distribute the fish for all to access.

    Luckily, there’s an easy solution.

    Redirecting the hatchery trout stocking from the McKenzie into other local, universally accessible bodies of water would simultaneously serve to protect the McKenzie’s unique wild trout as well as giving anglers a better opportunity to catch fish! Current recapture rates (fish caught divided by fish stocked) are estimated to be around 30% in the McKenzie with major losses to natural causes (birds, cold water, etc.); whereas nearly all fish planted in small stillwaters are caught. Redirecting the trout currently stocked in the McKenzie into local stillwaters such as Alton Baker Canoe Canal, Dexter Lake, and Junction City Pond will ensure that ODFW, the Army Corps of Engineers, and most importantly, the license-holding Oregon angler, get their money’s worth for each dollar devoted to hatchery fish propogation. Fish planted in local stillwaters will be more accessible – allowing those with small children, those without boats, those without cars, and those who don’t have an entire day’s time to fish to experience the joys of catching a trout. Our local stillwaters are also open to year-round fishing (as opposed to the McKenzie, which is only open during the summer months), and could be stocked year-round as well, opening up yet another window of fishing opportunity.

    What say you, McKenzie Guides Association? Are you on board?

    The ‘conservation’ angle is laughable at best, especially given ODFW’s own official stance on the matter. There is no reason to develop policy further – it already exists – and the steps to preserving the McKenzie’s trout are spelled out in simple English.

    ODFW’s 1997 McKenzie management plan requires that the mainstem McKenzie between Forest Glen and Hayden Bridge be managed primarily for “the natural production of cutthroat trout and rainbow trout (p.4).

    In addition to preserving then-current levels of native rainbow and cutthroat trout, the plan requires improvement in stocks of ESA-listed bull trout and spring Chinook salmon. Since the plan was authored, all populations, excepting bull trout, have shown marked decreases. Few if any remediation measures have been taken, especially in the middle section of the McKenzie where wild trout are scarce. The management plan implicates hatchery trout as the main barrier to healthy wild fish populations – “competition between hatchery trout and wild trout, and angling pressure generated by stocking hatchery trout, will continue to suppress wild trout.” (p.5) The current plan spells out in no uncertain terms what it will take to increase wild fish populations in the middle McKenzie – a decrease or elimination of stocked fish.

    Yet hatchery trout continue to be stocked.

    There’s no need to range to Montana for reasons to remove stocked trout from the McKenzie. Oregon’s own blue-ribbon Metolius is a prime example of a rapid recovery of a wild population to robust levels after the elimination of hatchery plants. ODFW’s own McKenzie management policy spells out the road to recovery for wild trout in a single, easy step. Let’s just go ahead and follow it!

    McKenzie Guides’ Assocation, the ball’s in your court… are you willing to step up and “endorse the Mc­Kenzie River trout management policies of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife” ?

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