Press "Enter" to skip to content

Rainbows turn a profit

Brief by Central Staff

Wildlife – July 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is not native to Colorado, but it is a popular sport fish. According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it’s also a valuable part of our economy.

James Caudill, an economist, looked at stocking information from 2004 for 11 national fish hatcheries (one, Hotchkiss, was in Colorado), and measured the economic effects (his results are in 2004 dollars).

Those 11 national fish hatcheries raised 9.4 million rainbows, which inspired nearly 4 million angler-days.

“Retail sales on things associated with fishing for rainbow trout, like food, gas, lodging, rods and reels, and bait and tackle, amounted to $172.7 million. That spending provided employment for 3,502 people and income of $80 million. Those wage earners contributed back to public treasuries $2.9 million in state income taxes, and $10.6 million in federal income taxes. Fishing for rainbow trout generated a total economic output of $325.1 million.”

The national hatchery system spent $5.4 million to produce the trout, so it works out that every dollar spent on producing rainbows produces $32.20 in retail sales and $36.88 in net economic value.

We’d trust this data more if it hadn’t come from someone hired by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which runs the National Fish Hatchery System. We also suspect that many of those anglers would be out fishing somewhere anyway, even if there were no stocked rainbows in some streams.

The rainbow is native to the West Coast, where they can migrate to the ocean and become steelhead trout in the saltwater. It was introduced into Colorado in the 1880s. The rainbow was also Colorado’s state fish from 1954 until 1994, when it was replaced by the cut-throat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki), the only trout species native to Colorado.

The Arkansas River in Central Colorado is famous for its brown trout (Salmo trutta); they arrived in 1890 from Europe. Brookies (Salvelinus fontinalis) — recall the bumper stickers that say “I eat brook trout” — are actually a type of char, not a true trout. They were introduced in 1872; and are native to the New England area. Those big lake trout, or mackinaws (Salvelinus namaycush), were imported in 1890 from the Great Lakes.