State trout hatcheries endanger environment daily

By Blythe Nebeker, Kevin Ko and Yanshu Wang

Trout season is a Missouri tradition. But the hatcheries needed to keep this tradition alive endanger local ecosystems every day.

Photos by Yanshu

Trout are bred in hatcheries in mid-Missouri. Follow their path to adulthood.   

Infographic by Yanshu

Infographic by Yanshu


Trout fishing may reel in a series of negative environmental effects, nation-wide

 A fisherman, knee-deep in still water, casts a line with hope hooked on its end. Hope for a rainbow trout to strike his lure instead of the other fisherman’s standing several feet away. This moment is a tradition in mid-Missouri— trout fishing.

As Mike describes, “It’s the sport of it, the challenge. If you’re not challenged, you’re not going to do it.”

The thrill of trout fishing brings people back to waterways day after day. However, this passion comes at a potentially costly price.

Trout fish are non-native to the Missouri ecosystem. Thousands of trout are bred in fish hatcheries across mid-Missouri to be released into waterways, such as Cosmo-Bethel Park in Columbia, Mo. and Bennett State Park near Lebanon, Mo., as well as many others.

Because of the possible drastic environmental changes that could happen when trout are bred in these hatcheries, Craig Fuller, a fisheries management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said, “We’re only thirty minutes away from death at any particular time.”

Hatcheries across the nation face similar challenges.

Douglas Thompson, a geology professor in Connecticut, has studied the negative effects of trout hatcheries on Connecticut’s ecosystems.

One major effect revolved around what trout ate. Hatcheries use pellets made up of different resources to feed the trout. Some are plant-based, while others are marine-based. Thompson says most pellets are plant-based now, but there are still some composed of marine species.

“So those [marine species-based pellets] are harvested in the ocean and [there are] potentially some negative impacts from over harvesting some of those species,” Thompson said.

Ken Midkiff, a local fisherman in Columbia, has fished for “at least sixty years, maybe seventy.” He’s also a member of Trout Unlimited and is no stranger to mid-Missouri trout parks and hatcheries. His experience with pellet food echoes Thompson.

“They have like machines where you can buy trout food and tossed in the water, so it’s a tourist attraction, the hatcheries are. Yes... they’re like little pellets. They look like cat food. Cat food for trout,” Midkiff said.

Thompson notes this isn’t the only problem that occurs with trout fishing. The constant infiltration of non-native trout into the waterways poses a threat.

“They're actually competing with the native species that would be in the river and that can cause problems for the native species,” he said.

These problems revolve around competition for resources amongst native and non-native species. Hatchery trout also become the dominant in these waterways because of their sheer size.

In Michigan, a bill was proposed surrounding the future of a hatchery near Au Sable River, Harrietta Hills Trout Farm. Michigan Radio reported a major concern among some conservationists and fishermen were the diseases and pollution these hatcheries could bring to these waters.

Even the U.S. State Department conducted a case study involving hatchery trout affecting the ecosystem. The findings state that releasing these hatchery trout provide “an opportunity for rainbow trout to impact native fish species and [any river, spring or stream] ecosystems. While rainbow trout are often overfished or do not spawn in the wild and must be re-stocked biannually in some places, they still pose a major threat to native fauna.” In short it is because these non-native trout eat everything, including the native species, as well as bring foreign diseases.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources actively works to ensure Missouri’s waterways aren’t affected by the hatcheries or the fish they raise.

Renee Bungart from the Office of Communications says it determines a very detailed set of water quality goals for streams and lakes in Missouri.

“In addition to the standards, rules, and regulations, the Department of Natural Resources regulates waters of the state through permitting, compliance and financial assistance and enforcement efforts,” Bungart said.

If the waters fail to meet the water quality standards, the state is mandated to file a report under the Clean Water Act. It is then tracked and regulated until the water meets the government standards once again.  

Fishing is an adventure. Fishermen love the anticipation of a trout striking the lure. It’s what brings them coming back day after day. The reality is, the demand for trout in mid-Missouri and across the nation will not dwindle. It’s a constant balancing act in many states of meeting that demand, while also protecting their ecosystem.

It’s trout season again. Thousands of anglers gather in Missouri just for trout fishing. But do you know what negative effects it may cause?

Video by Yanshu