January 2010 FAMA Editor's Note
A Gem State Eye-Opener
There are a lot of folks who derive their livelihood from either the ornamental or food fish industries. We’ve covered fishermen in the Indo-Pacific who harvest corals and marine fishes for our hobby and by doing so feed and clothe themselves and their families. There is the Alaskan crab fishery that provides a dramatic backdrop for the hit show Deadliest Catch. And the Amazonian freshwater ornamental fish trade is well-known. But many once-vibrant fisheries have been extirpated. And the iconic Pacific salmon fishery is but a shadow of its former self — victim of overfishing, pollution and hydroelectric dams.
Recently, my end of the summer escape saw me to landlocked Idaho. While visiting, Bryan Kenworthy, manager of the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery, gave me a behind-the-scenes tour. And I learned a lot.
Hagerman is a “mitigation” hatchery, meaning its purpose is to hatch, rear and release fish as a means to restore native fisheries — steelhead trout in this case. Hagerman releases 1.4 million 8-inch-long steelhead, a species of ocean-going trout that can reach 4-foot lengths, every year into the Salmon River drainage. This is because the Snake River, Idaho’s principal river, is blocked by dams on its lower reaches and is no longer a viable steelhead migration run for much of its length.
I was surprised to find out how important fish are to Idaho and Idahoans. Once released, hatchery-raised (and wild) steelhead have an annual impact of $90 million on rural Idaho’s economy. Some 90 percent of the country’s commercial and restaurant trade in trout originates in Idaho, bringing in perhaps another $70 million. But trout have some catching up if they wish to rival potatoes. The final value of Idaho’s 2008 spud crop was a record $833 million.