The Origin of a Fish

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

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.

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