The National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) was established by the U.S. Congress in 1871 through the creation of a U.S. Commissioner for Fish and Fisheries. This system of fish hatcheries is now administered by the Fisheries Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), an agency within the United States Department of the Interior.
When early pioneers began migrating to the western United States, there were no catch limits on fish and no laws preventing people from modifying fish habitats to meet human needs for water, food, and safety. As settlement progressed, abundant fish populations began to decline. By 1870, growing concern for such declines prompted fishery studies, which spurred the establishment of fish spawning stations for collecting and hatching fish eggs and stocking small fish back into waters with declining fisheries. Many of these early spawning stations later became fish hatcheries, marking the beginning of the Fisheries Program and the NFHS.
President Ulysses S. Grant was chiefly responsible for the first official government action to conserve U.S. fishery resources for future generations. President Grant established the U.S. Fish Commission in 1871. The Commission was the forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fisheries Program.
In 1872, the first Federal fish hatchery, known as the Baird Hatchery, was established on the McCloud River in California. The NFHS has since grown into a large complex system devoted to conserving U.S. fishery resources.
Originally Spencer Fullerton Baird was chosen by President Ulysses S. Grant to manage the fisheries in the country. He was named "Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries". In 1871 Baird took office but his work was still in effect. The people were now understanding the importance of the fisheries, for sport and food. With much pressure from organizations such as; American Fish Cultural Association and American Fisheries Society, Congress reserved $15,000 for the fisheries.
The man that was chosen to essentially take Baird's position was Livingston Stone. With a group of scientists his job was to find salmon spawning areas and develop a salmon hatchery so that the eggs could be managed and shipped around the country to make the salmon available for all. Stone and his team located this area and started shipping eggs as soon as possible. A few miles from where they had originally found the salmon eggs, rainbow trout eggs were also found. Now rainbow trout eggs and salmon eggs were being shipped across the world. Essentially every rainbow trout's native water is northern California. The Baird Hatchery was formed from Stone and today the hatchery still manages fish as they did back in the 1800s.
The Service's Fisheries Program and its fish hatchery system have played a vital role in conserving America's fishery resources for over 130 years. The program was established mainly to address the following:
The Fisheries Program has worked with valued partners including States, Native American tribes, Federal Agencies, other Service programs, and private interests in a larger effort to conserve fish and other aquatic resources.
The original purpose of the NFHS was to supplement declining native stocks of coastal and lake food fish through fish propagation. The NFHS has extensive experience culturing over 100 different aquatic species, and now propagates fish for reasons beyond supplementing declining food species. Hatchery-reared fish are now used to replace fish that were lost from natural events including drought, flood, habitat destruction, or human influences such as over-harvest, pollution, habitat loss due to development and dam construction. This is necessary in order to establish fish populations that meet specific management needs, and to provide for the creation of new and expanded recreational fisheries opportunities.
The role of the NFHS has changed significantly over the past 30 years as a result of the increasing demands recently placed upon various aquatic systems. Major responsibilities of the NFHS, besides mentioned fish propagation, now include helping to recover species listed under the Endangered Species Act, restoring native aquatic populations, mitigating for fisheries lost as a result of federal water projects, and providing fish to benefit Indian tribes and National Wildlife Refuges. NFHS concentrates its efforts on several fish species including lake trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, paddlefish, and sturgeon. Other interesting species that the NFHS helps to restore include freshwater mussels and amphibians.
The NFHS is able to conserve U.S. fishery resources by:
Recently, the Service has maximized the output of its work force by integrating the work of fish hatcheries and fisheries management. This integrated effort has been successful, and has resulted in cohesive, more efficient national restoration programs, such as those for Great Lakes lake trout, Atlantic Coast striped bass, Atlantic salmon, and Pacific salmon. The Fisheries Program continues to work with its stakeholders—Federal agencies, State resource agencies, Tribal governments, and private organizations— to complement habitat restoration and other resource management strategies for maintaining healthy ecosystems that support healthy fisheries.
Currently, the system comprises 70 national fish hatcheries, 9 fish health centers, 7 fish technology centers, and a historic national fish hatchery. National fish hatcheries are located in 35 states and produce more than 60 different species of fish.
There are dozens of National Fish Hatcheries around the country.
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