The Origin of a Fish

By Marvin Boyer | July 2, 2005
From Missouri Conservationist: Jul 2005

That trophy fish you caught is something to be appreciated. You remember how it fought when you caught it, and you probably measured it and weighed it. You might have taken pictures of it, or even had it mounted. Did you ever wonder, though, where the fish came from? Whether it was hatcheryraised or grew up in the wild?

 Missouri has more than 200 native fish species, plus several more species that are non-native but have established reproducing populations. Missouri anglers avidly seek about two dozen of these species.

In general, as long as adequate habitat exists for them, our native species sustain their numbers from year to year. The combination of natural fish reproduction with scientific management usually yields abundant fish and quality angling without the assistance of hatchery fish. Our sport fish management efforts mainly consist of adjusting fish populations by setting harvest limits (sizes and numbers) and seasons.

Different species of fish vary in their ability to sustain populations and harvest by anglers. Crappie and bluegill, for example, are fast-growing and reproduce in sufficient quantity to allow a generous harvest. Slow growing or fish with low reproductive rates can suffer greatly from excessive harvest and need more protection.

Sturgeon are good examples of slow growing and long-lived fish with low reproductive rates. For example, lake sturgeon commonly live at least 40 years. One captured in Canada was 152 years old.

Although they eventually become large, lake sturgeon grow slowly. A fish tagged by Conservation Department researchers in 1979 was only 28 inches long when it was recaptured in 2003. In addition, most sturgeon can’t spawn until they are more than five years old, and even then they don’t spawn every year.

Fish Stocking

Although wild fish are the largest component of most fisheries, we sometimes stock waters with hatcheryproduced fish where natural reproduction isn’t keeping up with harvest, or in special situations.

The Conservation Department has five warm water hatcheries and one rearing station that supply fish for Missouri waters.

One of the most common uses of hatchery fish is where habitat is not available for successful spawning or rearing of young fish. In some cases, such habitat is just too limited to enable fish to reproduce enough to satisfy angler demands.

In such situations, we usually stock high numbers of small fish—usually two to eight inches long. Predators eat many of the stocked fish, but some of them survive to become targets for anglers.

Native species managed with this type of maintenance stocking include sturgeon, paddlefish and walleye in rivers and impoundments, and channel catfish at many conservation area lakes.

We also stock adult fish in some waters. Called put-and-take, this strategy provides keeper-size fish in waters that are subjected to extremely high fishing pressure, including urban fisheries, kids fishing ponds and trout parks. Given the number of anglers enjoying these resources, natural reproduction and growth could not possibly sustain quality fishing. We stock some waters daily and some monthly, after raising the fish to harvestable size in hatcheries.

Pond Stocking

The Missouri Department of Conservation provides fingerling largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish for the initial stocking of new or renovated ponds.

The fish can be obtained free of charge from the Department’s Private Pond Stocking Program. To be eligible for participation, the pond must meet the following requirements:

  • Water must be at least eight feet deep.
  • The water and shoreline must be protected from livestock use.
  • The dam must be constructed for permanency and water tightness.
  • No undesirable fish species, other than minnows, may be present prior to stocking.
  • Water quality must be sufficient to ensure the survival of the stocked fish and sustain good fishing.
  • Stocking will not endanger species of conservation concern.

Landowners interested in participating in the program must submit a completed pond stocking application by July 15th. Applications for fish are available at offices of the Missouri Department of Conservation, from conservation agents, and from most agricultural agencies (NRCS Offices).

Participating landowners are not obligated to allow public use of their pond or property, but are encouraged to permit a reasonable amount of fishing. However, fishing is subject to regulations of the Wildlife Code of Missouri.

Trout and muskie wouldn’t exist in Missouri or many other Midwestern states if they weren’t produced in hatcheries.

Yet, trout fishing is one of the most popular outdoor recreations in Missouri. We support trout populations with fish raised at five coldwater hatcheries. Muskellunge fishing also has a dedicated following, and the muskies we stock in select waters provide Missouri anglers the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime.

In addition, our hatcheries supply fish to restore or establish populations in suitable, but unoccupied habitat. These fish go into new or renovated public lakes to establish sport fisheries.

We continually monitor fish populations in Missouri waters to identify needs and opportunities to bolster fish populations. We also try to reestablish fish populations in waters they formerly inhabited.

Biologists look for opportunities to diversify fishing opportunities by introducing species into existing public lakes that have available habitat. Sometimes, we can improve the quality of angling by introducing predatory fish to keep prey fish species from overpopulating.

In such cases, the Conservation Department stocks only native, formerly native or established species within their historic or established ranges, and only after determining that existing sport fisheries and native populations of fish and other aquatic organisms will not be harmed. triangle

Growing Up Wet

Different species of fish grow at different rates, and depending on food and competition, fish in one lake might grow at a different rate than fish in neighboring waters.

It might take anywhere from two to four years, for example, for a crappie to grow to nine inches long in Missouri, or 10 to 16 years for a blue or flathead catfish to reach 40 pounds.

Most Missouri fish have fairly consistent growth rates, however. It usually takes six years for a redhorse sucker to grow to 15 inches long, and nine years for a river smallmouth bass to reach three pounds. Largemouth bass and walleye usually reach that weight in six to seven years.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - TomCwynar
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Editor - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler