Hatchery trout removal economic case study: The Metolius River

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:

Metolius River Oregon Photo by TomHyde2

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.”


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6 Responses to Hatchery trout removal economic case study: The Metolius River

  1. Chris says:

    Great article! This is the key, changing minds with common sense; hatchery fish are fine, just not in a great river like the McKenzie. It could be so much better, and everyone involved could be better off for getting those hatchery fish out. It may take a couple years, but in the end everyone will wonder why we waited so long?

  2. Craig Heaton says:

    Several months ago, Jeff Ziller, showed a slide as part of a Power Point presentation. This was at the EWEB training room. The slide showed the decline of vehicle counts vs years. ODFW finally stopped doing vehicle counts because of lack of people people fishing for hatchery trout on the McKenzie River during opening day.

    My take on this is, the decline also paralleled the decline of timber industry in Oregon. A recent study conducted for ODFW & Travel Oregon showed most of the people fishing for trout in the Willamette Valley are traveling less than 50 miles from home! These people are not stopping, shopping, staying, etc., at McKenzie River Valley businesses. An other recent meeting at Ike’s Lakeside Pizza by those businesses prove the past business model is not working.

    It will be interesting to watch those businesses and the MRGA. Will they continue to dig in their heals? Or will they pull their heads out of the sand?

  3. Arlen says:

    Kudos for going out and digging up the facts. Everyone with an economic interest in McKenzie fish is understandably concerned about the potential effects of changing the way the river is managed. The success story, economic and otherwise, that followed the cessation of planting hatchery trout in Montana rivers is well known. Bringing to light the results of similar changes that have been made closer to home is an important contribution to the discussion.

  4. Rob R says:

    It is patently unfair to criticize a business owner for resisting our efforts unless we are going to come up with the money to fill the gap. Many of these businesses stand to lose significant income in the short term if we get what we want.

    So if we want them on our side, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to support those businesses and express our committment to supporting them through the tough times. We need to do our homework and show them what the future will look like and how we’re going to make it better for them.

    It’s way too easy to say “down with hatcheries.” That acheives nothing. Time for us all to put our money where are mouths are.

  5. Dave Vazquez says:

    Well said Rob. I couldn’t agree more. Business owners need concrete assurances that those of us who want a wild McKenzie will continue to support them through the lean times. But it’s also important to point out that the fishing WILL come back–just as it has in Montana, Idaho, the Metolius, the Deschutes, and even the lower McKenzie. Despite what some may say, a wild fishery will undoubtedly offer an economic boost for the McKenzie Valley in the long term.

  6. Ty says:

    Hatchery trout removal economic case study: The state of Montana.

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