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Wild vs. Hatchery Steelhead
Assorted studies have shown that there are limited numbers of naturally produced steelhead in the lower Cattaraugus Creek watershed. Due to this fact, some anglers that want to exercise their right to creel the occasional steelhead for the dinner table may want to preferentially select hatchery fish to keep rather than naturally produced fish. There are a couple different ways to tell the difference between hatchery and stream born fish. While both are quick and easy to determine by the average fisherman, they do have their limitations which are included in their descriptions.
is an obvious type of marking and the most accurate for determining if
a fisherman is looking at a hatchery reared fish. It involves looking
for fin clips that were made in the hatchery before the fish were stocked.
The fins usually clipped are the adipose, pelvic and pectoral. The
picture above shows a clip on the pelvic fin. Fin clips are used
by state agencies to mark a particular lot of fish they are releasing,
so that the fish can be identified in the future. New York
only clips* about 10,000 steelhead that are pen reared in Dunkirk Harbor.
The rest of the steelhead that are stocked
into WNY streams are not clipped. There may be clipped steelhead
that are stocked by PA or OH, but we have no referenced information to
back this up. So, essentially what this means is that while fin clips
are a good identification marker, there are very few steelhead swimming
around WNY with this type of mark.
The second way to identify
hatchery fish is to look for bent fin rays in the fins, especially the
dorsal. The picture above shows bent rays in the dorsal fin.
Bent fin rays are often a result of unnaturally crowded conditions in the
hatchery. While, this again is an easy way to determine hatchery
vs. wild, it is not an absolute measure. Steelhead raised in a hatchery
can exhibit perfectly formed fins. With this being said, there is
probably an even smaller chance of naturally produced steelhead having
deformed fins simply due to the fact that population dynamics wouldn't
allow a juvenile population to over crowd in a natural environment.
Starvation and death would keep the population size in check with the available
resources a particular stream can provide. So, if a deformed fin
is encountered, it is a pretty good bet that the fish was born in a hatchery.
This is the only
sure fire way of determining hatchery vs naturally produced steelhead.
Obviously, this involves intricate scientific work and could not be accomplished
by your average fisherman. Normally this type of work is done in
association with research projects run by colleges, universities and state/federal
agencies. It is also extremely costly, thus it is not done on a regular
* Note - clipping the number
of steelhead that are stocked in WNY is a monumental task for the guys
at the Lake Erie Fishery Unit to do by themselves. If anyone is interested
in getting a volunteer group together to spend a couple of days at the
Altmar hatchery clipping our steelhead each spring, I am sure the LEU would
be very interested in discussing this with you.
The above picture was scanned from
the Pere Marquette River Journal, vol. 2 no. 4, 1994. Editor: Frank