Volume 23, No.2, Summer 2005

Hatching at Home

Private landowners who also happen to love native fish have developed dozens of backyard incubators that are capable of hatching hundreds of thousands of eggs. According to Jerry Johnson at Montana State University, these units cost only a few hundred dollars, consisting of a 55-gallon plastic barrel, fake plastic gravel, and PVC pipes. They use a flow of just 3 to 4 gallons per minute. Even a quarter-acre lot is sufficient to start your own hatchery. The project was the brainstorm of Al Adam, who with Jerry Manuel eventually founded the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, a volunteer group that has released more than 4 million salmon. The group also helps rehabilitate streams, redesign culverts, remove stream barriers, and improve spawning grounds.

Because of the diverse sources of the salmon, the survival rates of the young fish are higher, and in cases of mishap or disease, losses are confined to a single incubator rather than an entire hatchery. While the approach is primarily used with salmon in the Northwest, Johnson says that the same approach can be applied to other freshwater fish. This low-cost, low-tech approach could help increase populations of cutthroat, grayling, and bull trout.

The addition of these hatchlings could create more vibrant fisheries, which in turn could attract millions of tourist dollars. The landowners’ involvement in the restoration effort is another added benefit, helping to develop a sense of stewardship that could protect the fisheries for years into the future.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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