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Look Out Below: An Usual Way of Transporting Fish to New Homes

A Cessna 185 Skywagon. By Oscar Elvir Vasquez [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Utah has an unusual and spectacular way of restocking it’s more remote and difficult to access lakes: airdropping fish directly above the lakes. Although typically used to quickly insert military forces or supplies to recipients on the ground, fish are now finding themselves being dropped from airplanes.

A video posted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources shows how hundreds of fingerlings – a scientific term for baby fish – are being dumped into a lake by a low-flying aircraft. The technique is not new, but gathered attention this week after a pilot filmed his flight and fish dump using a camera attached to his aircraft. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources the practice has been going on since 1956.

Fish and wildlife agencies across the world manually increase the stock of lakes for recreational fishing as well as for biodiversity health by adding fish grown at hatcheries to the native population in a body of water. The state government uses Cessna 185 Skywagon to fly the aerial restocking missions. Each of the planes includes seven special compartments filled with water to hold the fish and a latch to be released at the pilot’s command.

In addition to a pilot, a spotter/co-pilot is also on board each plane to help locate the various lakes using topographical maps and GPS coordinates. Each plane can stock seven lakes on one trip and a total of 40 to 60 lakes in a single day.

The aircraft are filled at the airport with fish from local hatcheries, where fish are grown from eggs to fingerling size. The aircraft then takes off for remote lakes and releases the fish directly from the air – usually at about 150 feet above a lake. The airplane’s speed, direction and wind speed, as well as the approach altitude, determine when the fish are released from the plane.

According to an interview Fox 13 News recorded of Ted Hallows, one of the Utah fish hatchery supervisors, most of the fish – approximately 95 to 99 percent – reach the water safely. In fact, according to the division’s research, the journey by plane is less stressful for fish than a long ride by truck or other means. According to Hallows, stocking remote lakes used to take months of walking in with milk cans full of fish, but now it only takes a few hours, thus, increasing their survival rate.

Officials said the trouts’ little bodies -they’re only 1 to 3 inches long- is what allow them to survive the fall. “Because of their small size (reduced mass), the process of dropping doesn’t hurt the fish,” officials wrote on Twitter. “Think of it as a high diver diving into a deep pool of water.”

Utah is not the only jurisdiction to use this method as other states such as Montana, New Hampshire and West Virginia use aerial restocking as well.

Adrian Vannahme


  • Adrian Vannahme

    Adrian joined AirlineGeeks as a writer in 2017. He had always wanted to become a pilot and while he chose a different career path for now, his interest in aviation continues to grow every day. Adrian was fortunate to travel extensively for business in the past five years. As a result, he focuses his research and writing on passenger services and experiences on a variety of airlines. His favorite aircraft include the Airbus A350, A380, and the Embraer passenger jets.

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