You could never convince them of it, but fish really do have it better these days.
Honest. Cleaner water, fewer diseases, more food to eat.Some fishermen may be hard to convince. Who pays attention, anyway. Wham, bang, there's a fish and what it took to get it on the line was all angling skills, nothing more.
Research has, however, played a major role, not only here in Utah but on national levels.
It has all happened in a cluster of small buildings, hardly bigger than a home, west of Logan called the Utah Division of Wildlife Recourse's Fish Experiment Station. It might better be called the Fish Research Station.
Research there has led to some pretty firm findings, ones that have resulted in many more fish produced and planted under declining conditions.
The center is run by Ron Goede, chief of the facility. Head of the research area is Eric Wagner.
What goes on here is no secret. Anyone who asks will be told, happily. What goes on here, however, isn't well known, probably because no one asks.It was some 25 years ago when Goede arrived on the scene that changes started to take place. One was a shift from quantity towards quality. The idea being, remembers Goede, the better the quality of the life for fish the less stress and the better survivability, and the higher the survivability and the more fish there will be.
"With the millions and millions of fish we stock each year, think of the benefits if we can increase survivability by only one percent. We're talking about a lot of fish showing up in creels," he points out.
One way this was done was to test and study Utah's "blue ribbon" waters. What helped them reach that status would obviously be good for other waters.
Too, it was found, fish rearing wasn't a science years ago as much as it was a learning process.
"What we found as we traveled around to the different hatcheries was that each had its own way of doing things and, in fact, each had its own language. If you went from one to another, you lost what it was they were doing in the translations.
"What we did was to start mandatory classes where we brought in all the hatchery people and used their knowledge to get their ideas, gather information and teach them a common language. We made them into fish health managers rather than simply hatchery operators," he recalls.
"For example, we used to fill our raceways full of water thinking more water was better, right? Well, it was wrong. There was too much water to oxygenate properly and as a result the fish were very stressed. We lowered the water and the turnaround was dramatic. It's difficult trying to convince people that less water is better."
In 1986, the program accelerated when Wagner joined the staff and, with federal money, was able to start a research program. He was taken from looking at fish that were sick into finding ways to keep them from getting sick.
One of the first things he looked at was finding ways of reducing stress as a method of improving survivability.
Among the things he looked at was the pH factor in water, which measures the degree of acidity or alkalinity. What he found was that high levels reduced survivability, sometimes down to as much as one percent, where low levels increased survivability, to as much as 96 to 100 percent in some cases.
"We found, for example, Strawberry has a high level of pH at certain time of the year. As a result we changed our stocking times to coincide with the low levels to get higher survivability," says Wagner.
Some things were simply proven, like loading/unloading methods. Three were tested to find out which gave the higher survivability - fish pump, conveyor belt and the old method of dip netting. It was found that there was not significant difference, "which told us it really didn't matter, that they all worked, so use whichever was best for the conditions."
There is a long list of other projects undertaken and under study at the station.
None holds more interest than its cross-breeding program.
Such species as the "Wiper," a cross between a white bass and striped bass; "Brake," a cross between the brown trout and lake trout; "Brownbow," a cross between a brown and a rainbow; "Tiger," a cross between a brown and a brook; "Splake" a cross between a lake trout and brook and the "Reciprocal Splake," which reverses the role of the parents; and "Tiger Muskie," a cross between a northern pike and muskellunge, are being reared here in Utah. Some are in Utah waters, others may be someday.
In each case, the fish are being reared for specific reasons.
The Brake, for example, is being looked at as a possible fish for planting in areas of high whirling disease problems. The brown is among those fish least susceptible to the disease spore and the lake trout has never been found to have the disease.
The Brownbow is being looked at as a replacement fish for the sterile rainbow in Strawberry. Without a very expensive study, Utah can no longer use the proven method of sterilization it did, so future rainbow plants at Strawberry have been stopped.
The Tiger Muskie, often called a hollow tube with teeth, is a good predator fish for controlling problem species.
What makes hybrids perfect for planting is: 1. Crossing the fish makes them sterile, so numbers can be controlled through planting; 2. Hybrids tend to grow faster and larger. Wagner says it's believed that energy used in producing eggs and sperm is transferred into growth.
Some fishermen will concur, as in the case of the Splake, that the taste is better, too.
Wagner is also looking at many other areas in a search for stress relief, such as water temperature, planting practices, the materials used to build rearing pens and an extensive look into methods of sterilization, including such things use of a magnetic field.
All, of course, done quietly and, as has been frequently recognized on a national level, most efficiently.