Pages 93-96 in R. Barnhart,B. Shake, and R.H. Hamre (editors) Wild Trout V: Wild trout in the 21st Century. 1994.

Wild trout: The fish culturists' view

Nick C. Parker1

1National Biological Survey, Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Texas Tech   University, Lubbock, TX 79409-2125

A survey of fish culturists on National Fish Hatcheries indicated that 82% believed that wild trout could be produced in hatcheries. The majority, 65%, of respondees would expect the progeny of wild fish to become domesticated in five generations. The definition of Wild trout" as viewed by 51% of these fish culturists would not preclude fish from being produced in the wild.


National and international discussions and debates have been held to contrast and compare the value of wild trout and those produced in hatcheries (Schramm and Mudrak 1994; Stickney 1994; Utter 1994). An even stronger debate rages on the West Coast concerning the management of Pacific salmon stocks (Mcnkc 1993; Wright 1993). These concerns have been expanded to now question nearly all aspects of fisheries management and especially the role of hatcheries (Philipp et al. 1993; Shupp 1994). Fisheries scientists and anglers alike are biased by their personal experiences and the biases start with the most fundamental of terms. What do we mean when we refer to "wild" fish and particularly for this audience to "wild trout"?

Webstcr's New World Dictionary defines wild as "living or growing in nature; not tamed or cultivated by man". Does a fish captured from the wild and moved info a hatchery as broodstock immediately cease to be wild? Would progeny from such a fish be wild if they were immediately resumed to the waters from which the parent stock were taken? Would they be wild if maintained in captivity for I day, I month, 1 year, or 1 generation?


To solicit views of fish culturist on the question "What is a wild trout?", a twelve question survey (Figure 1) was sent to managers of the National Fish Hatcheries of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This questionnaire was mailed on 16 August to 76 hatchery managers and 41 responses (54%) were returned by 15 September 1994. The 41 responses were received from only 29 halcheries; personnel at one hatchery returned six responses, all of which were included in the analysis. These six responses were responses from individuals and expressed differing points of view on the twelve questions. These results, therefore, represent the views of 41 respondees and not of 41 hatchery managers.

Respondees overwhcimingly (82%; 33 of 40) believed that wild trout could be produced in hatcheries. Only 5 of 41 (12%) of the respondees answered negatively. However, nine respondees qualified their answers indicating "lo a limited exteenl" or "depends on your definition of wild". Others indicated that fish from hatcheries could survive and adapt to wild conditions once released from the hatchery. Some indicated that hatchery produced fish would not be as wild as wild fish even if fertilized eggs were to remain in the hatchery only until hatching.

Questions 2, 3, and 4 were designed to solicit views on how long it would take for a wild trout to become domesticated once moved into captivity. A large majority, 82%, indicated that a wild fish would not become domesticated in 30 days. However, as the time in captivity increased to 1 year, only 72% of the respondees indicated that a wild captured fish would still be wild. Less than half (48%) of the respondees indicated that a fish would remain wild if maintained in Captivity for more than 1 year.

Questions 5, 6 and 7 were designed to seek information on the hatchery-produced progeny of wild to become domesticated within five generations (Figure 2).

SURVEY - What is a wild trout?

1. With the national controversy between hatchery-reared fish wild fish, can wild trout be produced in hatcheries? _ Yes _ No

2. Wild trout become domesticated after 1 day to 1 month in captivity. _ Yes _ No

3. Wild trout become domesticated after 1 Month to 1 year in captivity. _ Yes _ No

4. Wild trout become domesticated after more than 1 year in captivity. _ Yes _ No

5. The F1 generation taken from wild broodstock would be considered as wild trout? _ True _ False

6. The F2 generation taken from wild brood fish would be considered as wild trout. True _ False

7. When would you consider the progeny of wild brandish to become domesticated (give the F1, F2, F3, etc generation)

8. Have you recognized behaviors differences among trout taken from the wild? _ Yes _ No

9. Do some trout taken from the "wild" appear more docile than others? _ Yes _ No

10.In your own words, how do you describe a wild trout?

11.How can hatcheries support wild trout programs?

12.How could hatchery procedures, diets, etc. be modified to produce fish more similar to wild trout?

Information on person completing the survey:

Name: Hatchery: Address: City, State, Zip: Phone:


Please return to the address below by September 15, 1994.

Nick C. Parker

Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Texas Tech University

Lubbock, TX 79409-2125

Phone 8061742-2851 FAX 806/742-2280

Figure 1 .—The survey sent to managers of 76 National F ish Hatcheries of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to solicit their views on wild trout.

The qualifiers added to questions 5, 6, and 7 by the respondees included decisions based on electrophoretic analysis of proteins, behavioral changes, conditions under which successive generations were maintained, and strains of trout. Some respondees pointed out that domestication was not an all or none process, but a gradual cline. Others argued that anything man does to a wild fish, even catching and releasing it in the wild, alters its behavior and therefore renders it less naive, therefore less wild.

Is one wild trout the same as every other wild trout? Are there behavioral differences among wild trout? Seventy percent of the respondees have recognized behavioral differences within or among strains of wild trout (question 8) and 45% indicated that some "wild" trout appeared more docile than others (questions 9).

Some wild trout, when moved into captivity, were judged to be " more to "run from from people " to feed ", " do not transport well", and some show "more signs of stress during handling."

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figure 2 - 2.Percent of fish culturists responding positively that wild trout would become domesticated after one to ton generations captivity.

Most fish culturists tended to describe wild trout based on the fish's behavior when placed in captivity. The range of definitions included the following:

    1. An endemic population of trout in a natural setting with no history of domestication or stocking.

    2. A fish that will adapt to the wild environment within 60 days.

    3. A fish with genetic characteristics similar to its wild counterparts and a fish whose behavior has not be significantly modified by time in the hatchery -- at least        not irreversibly.

    4. Any trout originating from a wild parent stock that retains wild characteristics when stocked.

    5. A fish that has not become domesticated after years of selection in the hatchery.

It's worth noting that of the 39 definitions for "wild trout" provided by the 41 respondents, 51% used a definition that would not preclude fish from being produced in a hatchery. Conversely, 16 of 39 (41%) expressively excluded use of hatcheries or any type of management action in their definition of wild trout. Only 5% included genetic composition as part of their definition. The views expressed in all 39 definitions were included in one of the five definitions in the examples given.

When asked "How can hatcheries support wild trout programs?" (question 11) the responses ranged from (1) positive recommendations for hatching programs to (2) keeping hatchery-produced fish away from waters with wild trout. individual responses indicated that 26 of 30 (87%) respondees believed that hatcheries could be used to produce fish that were "wilders" than domestic stocks. However, most indicated that programs must shift their emphasis from quantity to quality. Gametes taken from wild broodstock could be used to produce F. wild progeny. Most responders supported the position of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines for producing wild trout -wild trout are those with no more than two generations in a hatchery environment.

Conversely, 16% of respondees indicated their belief that hatcheries could not produce wild fish. A minority held the position that hatchery fish should never be stocked in streams designated for wild fish. However, others pointed out that many restoration programs were dependent upon protecting and propagating threatened and endangered stocks in hatcheries to produce progeny for release in the wild.

The final question on the survey was to solicit recommendations on how hatchery procedures could be modified to produce fish more similar to wild trout. Thirty-seven of the 41 respondees (90%) answered this question. To produce wild trout, or at least fish more similar to wild trout, most fish culturists agreed on several major points. They would (l) reduce stocking densities in raceways and ponds, (2) provide diets similar to that available to wild fish, (3) greatly reduce quantity and type of fat in the diets, (4) cease using prophylactic treatments for suppression of disease, (5) increase flow rates, (6) avoid human contact, (7) minimize stress, (8) supply shade, (9) design tanks or ponds to simulate environmental conditions similar to those found in natural habitats with earthen banks, trees, roots, and gravel bottoms, (10) paint tanks a dark color and reduce light intensities in hatchery buildings. Another suggestion was to routinely infuse genes from wild stocks into hatchery stocks. Some culturists would defy anyone to distinguish between a wild trout and a hatchery-reared trout 6 months after stocking. At the other extreme, one culturist declared it impossible to modify hatcheries or procedures to produce wild trout.


It should be obvious that not all fish culturists hold the same views regarding wild trout or the role of hatcheries in wild trout programs. However, given the opportunity, almost all culturists would like to produce fish of a quality equal to that of wild trout (some apparently now believe that they do so). Major obstacles recognized by most respondees were inadequate budgets, excessively high production quotas, and compliance with established procedures for control of selected fish diseases. Hatcheries were seen as an aid to manage and maintain populations of wild trout. Culturists recognized the importance of proper habitat to maintain healthy populations of wild trout and other aquatic species. They also recognized that the growth of the human population and the increasing demands of anglers can not be met by wild trout alone. There is a recognized need for put-and-take fisheries in urban environments and the need to use hatchery-reared fish to restore stocks in areas where habitat has been degraded.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so may wild trout be in the eye of the angler, culturist, or manager. No fish culturist wants to produce fish without fins or those described as "swimming sausages with scales." However. they do want to use hatcheries as appropriate to support programs for restoration of wild trout and to provide angling opportunities for those unable to fish for wild trout. Maybe as in the case of pornography, wild trout are hard to define, but we all know them when we see them. I believe that we can all appreciate and admire wild trout regardless of their source.


I thank all managers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Hatcheries and their staff for responding to this survey. I also thank John Leonard, Robert Piper, Arden Trandhal and numerous others for their helpful discussions of this topic.


Menke, K. 1993. Threatened and endangered Snake River salmon stocks of fish, politics, risks, and professional choices. Fisheries 18(11): 18-20.

Philipp, D.P., J.M. Epifanio, and M.J. Jennings. 1993. Point/Counterpoint: Conservation genetics and current stocking practices — are they compatible? Fisheries 18(12): 14-16.

Schramrn, Jr., H.L. and V. Mudrak. 1994. Essay: Beneficial aspects of put-and-take trout stocking. Fisheries 19(8):6-7.

Shupp, B. 1994. Issues facing traditional fisheries management. Fisheries 19(4):24-25.

Stickney, R.R. 1994. Use of hatchery fish in enhancement programs. Fisheries 19(5):6-13.

Utter, F.M. 1994. Essay: Detrimental aspects of put-and-take trout stocking. Fisheries 19(8):8-9.

Wright, S. 1993. Fishery management of wild Pacific salmon stocks to prevent extinction. Fisheries 18(5):34.