A Brief Note About Hatchery Versus Wild Fish

Washington Coho Salmon

For those of you who know western fish, you might be thinking “HAH! That’s a hatchery fish! It’s not WILD! That’s not wild food!”

We would say that it is. It’s not a wild fish, but it is wild food. How does that work?

For those of you that don’t know, hatchery fish like this one are born in a hatchery and released into a river when they are young. This is usually done in places where dams block rivers and power producers are essentially “making up” for lost habitat above the dams.

Hatchery fish are distinguishable because they’re missing one of their fins (the adipose fin) that is clipped off before they are released. They swim out to the ocean to feed and then return as a (much larger) adult. The fishes’ goal in returning is to reproduce, but the reason they are raised and released in the first place is usually for them to be harvested by anglers like us. In a lot of rivers, they are the ONLY fish that we are allowed to harvest. There are people who love hatcheries and hatchery fish, people who hate hatcheries and hatchery fish, and people in between. We won’t go there.

So, technically, yes, this fish is indeed a hatchery-origin fish. At this point in time, wild fish and hatchery fish intermingle, and in the ocean sometimes there is no way to tell wild and hatchery fish apart. What you buy in a package at the supermarket could very well be wild or hatchery-origin and would still be labeled “Wild Coho Salmon”. Either way, if you really want to be picky about the fish you choose to eat, grab a fishing pole and go fishing.

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