Thousands of 3-inch fish splashed down into about 200 high-altitude lakes in Utah over the past week, as the state’s wildlife department restocked its water bodies by plane. The work is done by plane because the lakes are inaccessible by ground transit, especially when carrying so many fish in hundreds of pounds of water.
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources published a video of a recent fish stocking tour last week. It shows a propeller airplane flying over the lake and spewing water and fish from its underside. The dropped fish are young fingerlings, so-called for measuring a few inches at most. In the video, the fish almost seem to flutter down to the water, like ticker tape at a victory parade. According to a document shared with me by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesperson, the juvenile fish can survive the fall and impact with the water better than larger fish.
Fish stocking by plane has been happening in Utah since the 1950s as a way to support recreational fishing and sometimes to help conserve native species. Lakes are still stocked using tanks on trucks when roads allow, and, in the past, horses laden with fish were used for the job, according to a 2017 article by Utah state biologist Matt McKell.
The fish are weighed and counted before their trips; the planes can carry up to 35,000 fish in one stocking trip. Up to 60 different lakes can be stocked in a single day, and the plane the Utah wildlife team uses has seven separate tanks, meaning the team can stock the aircraft with numerous species of fish for one trip. It’s not immediately clear what species of fish were involved in the recent drop, but rainbow trout, tiger trout, splake, and Arctic grayling are all used to stock lakes, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Services.
Being dropped from planes is only one of the extreme ways fish get transported en masse. Salmon cannons have been used for years to launch fish over dams without harming them.