What do ocean conditions off the coast of Chile or the east coast Atlantic Ocean have to do with trout fishing in Missouri?
A lot, according to James Civiello.
Civiello is manager of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s fish hatchery programs. Five MDC trout hatcheries grow hundreds of thousands of rainbow and brown trout each year, typically stocking 800,000 in the state’s trout parks, certain streams and wintertime urban lakes.
Some 500,000 more are stocked into Lake Taneycomo near Branson each year from the Shepherd of the Hills hatchery.
Trout are not native to Missouri but have been raised in hatcheries here since the 1920s, largely because many of the state’s large springs are cold enough to support the immensely popular game fish.
Those trout anglers who stand shoulder to shoulder on opening day of catch-and-keep trout season (March 1 this year) likely have no idea their tasty game fish has a direct connection to the oceans.
Price of ocean-derived feed drives up cost of Missouri trout
Here’s the link, Civiello explains. Trout at the hatcheries typically eat about 40,000 pounds of special pellet feed a month, as they grow from tiny eggs to a catchable size of about a foot long and three-quarters of a pound. It costs a lot to feed those fish.
And the high-quality protein in the small fish-feed pellets comes from ground-up ocean-going anchovies and menhaden that are harvested off the coast of Chile and the Atlantic ocean.
An El Nino event affecting anchovies in the Pacific or a population shift in east coast menhaden, for example, can have a significant impact on how many fish are commercially netted, with a direct effect on the cost of trout pellets.
“Fish protein is a volatile ingredient, price-wise,” Civiello says. “A lot of times we can lock in a price, but if ocean conditions change, that can have a significant effect on the price of feed, which is a big input in our yearly budget.”
So just how much does it cost to raise a Missouri trout?
Civiello says it varies from year to year depending on the price of feed, costs of hatchery maintenance and improvements and the occasional huge flood event that washes away or kills a lot of hatchery trout.
“In 2016 we had a huge flood event at Montauk, where the hatchery got completely flooded out,” Civiello said. “We lost a lot of fish in that event. The number of fish we were able to stock dropped because of that big flood event. We also had major floods at Bennett Spring and at Roaring River.”
MDC calculates its cost of raising a trout by dividing the annual trout hatchery budget with the poundage of fish its hatcheries produce.
From 2010 to 2020, a hatchery-raised trout cost an average of $1.93 per fish, according to MDC.
But in 2016 — when flooding significantly reduced the number of trout that were successfully raised — that cost jumped to $2.47 per trout.
Civiello said MDC used to say the trout hatcheries paid for themselves through the purchase of trout tags and permits. In recent years, however, rising costs prompted MDC to increase its trout tags from $3 in 2019 to $4 in 2020. Youth trout tags rose by the same amount.
“The price increases on trout tags helped us reset closer to our actual costs,” Civiello said.
Economic influence of trout fishing on Missouri
The five trout parks hatcheries — Bennett Spring near Lebanon, Roaring River near Cassville, Shepherd of the Hills at Branson, Montauk near Licking, and Meramec Spring near St. James — have an economic impact far wider than just the trout tags that are sold there.
Francis Skalicky, MDC spokesman based in Springfield, said he researched in 2017 how much economic benefit the trout parks generated for the Missouri economy.
“Missouri’s trout-fishing areas — which primarily consist of four trout parks, 2,080-acre Lake Taneycomo and more than 100 miles of streams — get a steady flow of users throughout the year,” Skalicky wrote in the Conservationist Magazine.
He said Missourians cumulatively spend 1.4 million days a year fishing for trout. The sport generates retail sales of $104 million annually and has an annual economic impact of $187 million, he added.
Skalicky said the economic impact number includes hotel stays, restaurant and grocery store meal purchases, gasoline and travel-related sales, and fishing and related gear sales. It also takes into account how trout-related dollars repeatedly roll through the local economy.
He said more than 250,000 anglers fish for trout in Missouri each year, and the sport supports some 2,300 jobs in the state.
Missouri’s record rainbow trout was an 18-pound 1-ounce fish caught at Roaring River trout park in 2004 by Neosho angler Jason Harper.
In 2019, Bill Babler of Blue Eye landed the Missouri state record brown trout at Lake Taneycomo that weighed 40 pounds 6 ounces.
It was just a few pounds shy of the world record brown, a 44-pound 5-ounce giant that was caught in New Zealand in 2020.