Recharging the Waters – A Right of Spring

Photography by Rafal Gerszak with a story by Mark Hume

Every spring the trucks head out from five hatcheries located around British Columbia to recharge some of the 200,000 lakes and 750,000 kms of streams with new stocks of trout.

The Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery, just outside Vancouver, is one of the busiest, putting over 860,000 rainbows, steelhead and cutthroat into more than 150 different water bodies each year. These aren’t bedraggled hatchery fish with worn tails, but fish derived directly from wild stock.

Spring

Steve Arnold, Hatchery manager at the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery, stocks a learning pond.

Some of the fish will be caught soon after they have been released, but others will survive for years, reproducing naturally and with luck, growing to trophy size. Some are triploids, fish which have effectively been sterilized so that all their energy is directed into growth.

The released fish range from fry, that are smaller than a finger, to adult “catchables” that are big enough to be taken home and eaten.

Steve Arnold, manager of the Fraser Valley hatchery, says B.C.’s hatchery operators take a lot of pride in producing healthy, beautiful fish that are genetically indistinguishable from wild trout.

“All of our fish eggs come from wild stock,” he said, explaining how the hatchery gathers eggs each spring by live-trapping adult trout at a few special “brood lakes.”

Basically wild trout are intercepted on their way to the spawning grounds and their eggs are redirected to hatcheries, where they are fertilized and hatched. The young fish are mostly released at 9 to 12 months of age.

“So they are essentially wild fish. We’ve got total genetic diversity,” said Mr. Arnold.

Spring

Releasing a rainbow trout into a learning pond at the Fraser Valley

The stocking program, run by the non-profit Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, produces over eight million trout, steelhead, char and kokanee salmon each year, releasing them into about 800 bodies of water around the province. The program is the backbone of B.C.’s sport fishery, with the province’s 300,000 freshwater anglers accounting for $545 million a year in direct spending.

Asked how he feels when he watches a family fishing together, catching his trout, Mr. Arnold laughs out loud.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Fraser Valley Trout slideshow by Rafal Gerszak