Hatcheries are used extensively throughout the United States to artificially breed and raise salmon, steelhead and trout. Hatcheries are most commonly used to support recreational, commercial, and tribal fisheries, but they can also be used to conserve imperiled populations threatened with extinction.
For many years hatcheries were built to mitigate for habitat loss caused by development, such as the construction of fish-blocking dams. Others were built to provide trout for recreational anglers (e.g. rainbow, brown, and brook depending on the region) to rivers, streams, and lakes where they were not native. At the time these well-intentioned hatchery programs were started, we had only a limited scientific understanding of how hatcheries impact native species and the ecosystems in which they operate.
In recent years our scientific understanding of hatcheries has increased substantially. We now know how hatcheries can be used as a conservation tool or to provide additional fishing opportunities. We also now know that hatcheries can have significant negative genetic and ecological impacts on wild salmonid populations. The American Fisheries Society, the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, and other scientists have recommended that decisions about whether to use and how to manage hatcheries be made in an ecological context, with clear goals and an understanding of their potential harmful and beneficial effects.
Trout Unlimited has a long history of working to ensure that hatcheries are used and managed responsibly in a manner consistent with the best available science, and continues to advocate for hatchery reform.