Fish Hatcheries and Preserves

SIC 0921

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in operating fish hatcheries or preserves. Establishments primarily engaged in raising and harvesting aquatic animals are classified in SIC 0273: Animal Aquaculture.

Fish hatcheries were developed during the latter part of the nineteenth century in an effort to supplement dwindling fish stocks. In nature, fish lay thousands of eggs, but most juveniles die in massive numbers because of insufficient food, predators, and diseases. In hatcheries, eggs hatch under controlled conditions and juveniles are able to grow in a protected environment. These conditions result in diminished losses, and young fish can be returned to their natural environment in sufficient quantities to replenish populations.

In 1871, the National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) was established by Congress through the creation of a U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries. In 1885, the first hatchery programs were undertaken by the NFHS in an effort to replenish shad and lobster populations. By 1916 the federal government operated more than 100 hatcheries, and many states had also opened their own hatcheries. Fish populations being augmented with hatchery stock included cod, pollack, haddock, flounder, salmon, and lobster.

Hatcheries were also involved in the intentional transplanting of species. Although most programs failed and new stocks did not take hold, there were notable successes. Shad and striped bass (rockfish), two Atlantic species, were introduced to Pacific waters. Both flourished and briefly sustained commercial fishing. Overfishing, however, led to government action to protect remaining stocks. Although commercial harvesting was prohibited, striped bass and shad continued to be abundant, popular game fish.

Hatchery development began to slow during the 1930s because programs were unable to demonstrate increases in commercial harvests. Hatchery-raised fish were often less able to survive in a natural environment because they were conditioned to being fed, fell prey more readily than wild stock, and were susceptible to stunting, diseases, and parasites as a result of overcrowded conditions in hatchery ponds. Additionally, although millions of fish were released, they represented only a tiny fraction of the ocean's natural population and, as a result, did not make a significant difference.

Because of these problems, fish hatcheries began evolving in different ways. Private, commercial hatcheries redirected themselves toward raising harvestable crops of fish under controlled conditions (see SIC 0273: Animal Aquaculture). One remaining type of private, commercial hatchery was the fish preserve. Fish preserves provided a controlled environment for people, usually from urban areas, to visit and experience the thrill of catching a fish. Public hatcheries backed away from commercial species, instead focusing their efforts on replenishing game stock. Even the NFHS shifted its focus and diversified many of its programs to ensure a future for the aquatic ecosystems of the United States. In the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hatcheries delivered fish to area bodies of water, while fishermen followed or waited.
In the 1990s, most fish hatcheries were publicly owned. In 1990, Alaska's fishery enhancement division transferred the last of its commercially oriented hatcheries to private aquaculture associations. Remaining government-owned hatcheries refocused their efforts toward producing fish for sportsmen and enhancing fish populations in rural areas in which they are depended on for subsistence. But the early years of the first decade of the 2000s saw increased hatchery activity and success. The NFHS integrated the work of fish hatcheries and fisheries management to procure more efficient national restoration programs such as those for Great Lakes lake trout, Atlantic Coast striped bass, Atlantic salmon, and Pacific salmon. By the mid-years of the first decade of the 2000s, the NFHS had 70 fish hatcheries, seven fish technology centers, nine fish health centers, and one historic fish hatchery. The NFHS focused their resources on restoring, maintaining, and recovering native and endangered fish populations. For example, Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Missouri began working to restore the pallid sturgeon population in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in 2002 to offset the impact of dam construction, which had depleted the pallid sturgeon population. The NFHS also maintained the National Broodstock Program (which ensures the availability of disease-free eggs and larvae for various programs), evaluation of hatchery stocking programs and recreational fisheries, and developing and encouraging partnerships between governments and the private sector to provide greater opportunities for conserving and enhancing aquatic ecosystems.

According to a Washington Office Fish Hatchery Species report, in the mid-years of the first decade of the 2000s, roughly 170 million fish were distributed from hatcheries in the United States and more than 140 million eggs produced. Approximately 100 hatcheries operated in the Columbia River basin alone. Most of the fish distributed were cold-water species with Fall Chinook Salmon accounting for nearly half of the total cold-water distribution. A glut of Wild Chinook Salmon prompted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to halt fishing for hatchery salmon on the lower Columbia River in 2003 after efforts to boost salmon populations in the Columbia River basin had proven particularly effective between 2000 and 2002. Other leading cool-water species included walleye and northern pike. Although warm-water species accounted for the least number of total fish, the group consisted of 30 different species, twice as many as cold- and cool-water species. Leading warm-water species were striped bass, bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and American shad.

In 2010, 6,049 people were employed at 1,174 fish hatcheries and preserves, according to Dun & Bradstreet's (D&B) Industry Reports. States with the most hatcheries and preserves included Washington with 114, Florida with 85, Alaska with 72, and California with 61. Total annual sales in the industry were estimated at $338.7 million.

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