Utah Annually Bombs Its Lakes With Baby Fish Dropped From a Plane

Biologists just blessed the internet with this incredible video.

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Aug 30 2018, 12:00pm

Screenshot: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The internet just reminded us of Utah’s storied history of dropping fish out of planes.

Wildlife officials have been bombing local lakes with hatchling cargo since 1956. Each year, tens of thousands of baby fish are loaded onto planes, where they’re flown over water, and unceremoniously flung from the sky.

This week, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources blessed our timelines with a GoPro video of their aerial descent.

The process may look violent, but the agency claims its technique has a five percent mortality rate—less fatal than ground transportation, which is “much more stressful on the fish.”

“Because of their small size (reduced mass), the process of dropping doesn’t hurt the fish,” the agency tweeted. “Think of it as a high diver diving into a deep pool of water.” (I dunno, that sounds painful?)

Anyway, you probably wondering why this happens at all. It’s part of an effort to stock Utah’s popular fisheries with trout—varieties such as brook, rainbow, splake, and tiger trout during the summer, and cutthroat trout and arctic grayling in the fall. (Outdoor recreation like fishing continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry for the state.)

But many of these lakes are located at high elevations, and are more accessible by plane. In 1955, officials were using milk cans, gunny sacks, and horses to get the job done. Once flight was incorporated (which originated with the California Department of Fish and Game), the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was able to massively increase its output. According to the agency, a single plane can stock seven lakes on one trip, and hit 40 to 60 lakes in a day.

Each plane requires a pilot and a spotter—GPS helps the team hone their position, which is important since they’re flying low, before hitting the switch that releases the hatchlings.

In an explainer, the agency wrote:

To line up these small waters, the pilot sometimes must use maneuvers that are both aeronautic and acrobatic. These waters are often tucked into tight 10 spots and require a well-planned escape route. Many of the runs into these lakes are more exciting than any amusement park ride you’ll ever experience. And these guys get paid to do it!

The agency also uses trucks to stock lakes when the terrain allows for it.

Utah is home to many threatened and endangered fish, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout, whose populations were harmed by overfishing, mining, and logging. Conservation biologists are working hard to repopulate Utah’s state fish, the Bonneville cutthroat trout, by transporting their eggs to a local hatchery, improving their survival rate as the hatchlings mature.