Wild, Native, or Hatchery Trout, What’s the Difference?

I’m going to approach this from a fisherman’s perspective. If you are a fisherman like me, you know that wild and native fish are the most challenging to catch and fight the hardest, turns out they are also better for you from a health perspective.

Wild Anadromous and Hatchery Fish

This is a little cloudy but I have to include it, so let’s try to clear things up a bit. If the trout are anadromous (Salmon and Trout all species) it means it was born in freshwater and spends the majority of its life in the ocean. It then returns to where it was born in freshwater to reproduce, rather that be a hatchery or stream.

If it’s a hatchery fish they are spawned in a hatchery and released at a young age to return to the ocean (some cases the great lakes), grow to maturity, and then return to the same hatchery to spawn. The wild version is a fish that’s born in the streambed, returns to the ocean and back to the same spot in the stream where it was born to reproduce. These anadromous fish will spend anywhere from 3 to 7 years out to sea before returning to spawn.

When it comes to nutritional value there’s probably not much difference if any at all. I know the hatchery fish spent the first few months eating crap fish food, living in confined space, probably under stress, and I’m sure they received some sort of medication.

What about PCBs, omega 3s and 6s, and other toxins you ask? Remember we are not talking about Farm Raised Salmon here. We’re talking about a fish that spends less than a 10th of its life in high-stress conditions.

And just like you and me, with the Standard American Diet and western sedentary lifestyle, we are trying to convert to ancestral living and eating to improve our health and biomarkers (and we know we can), this fish did the same thing only much better than us.

If you’re lucky enough to catch one of these beauties. The main way to tell the difference the hatchery fish is usually missing its adipose, sometimes a dorsal, or pectoral fin.

The Resident Trout

Are trout that do NOT go to the ocean for part of there lifecycle. They live their entire life in a lake or stream. They can include many different species in some surprising locations. I will break these down into three categories.

Native Trout:

A native trout are indigenous to the stream or lake that it lives in. They naturally reproduce. Are self-sustaining, and receive no hatchery supplementation. Most of these populations are protected and, in most cases, have strict regulations. Many times, it will be catch and release only. If you are allowed to keep a few, the nutritional value is probably high.

A good example of fish in this category would be the Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroat Trout, or the Deschutes Redside Rainbow Trout.

Wild Trout:

Wild Trout is very similar to Native Trout. The primary difference is a Wild Trout is NOT indigenous to that stream or lake but was placed there by man or other means. They naturally reproduce there and have a self-sustaining population. Wild trout could have been living in that stream for a hundred generations or maybe only a few.

A good example is Brook Trout in the western united states. They live in many of our high mountain streams and lakes. They were stocked in the mid-1800s, and in several places, they have become invasive and compete with native trout.  This is great from a modern hunter-gather perspective because the bag limits are generous. And before you get all excited, I know a Brook Trout is technically a Char.

Many populations of wild trout are protected and just like native trout have many restrictive regulations. Nutrition wise they are the same as native trout. In fact, the only difference is the indigenous part, to be honest. The physiological part is the same.

Hatchery Trout

Last but not least is the lowly hatchery trout. Hatchery Trout are raised in the hatchery until they reach a catchable size (sometimes fingerlings are stocked). Then they are released into bodies of water for you to catch. One of the cool things is they are stocked in places like Las Vegas Nevada and Phoenix Arizona in the winter time. This is a great opportunity for those living in bigger cities and hot climates to experience trout fishing, and getting in touch with your wild side.

The good news, they are dumb or should I say easy to catch. In most states, they have decent bag limits, and you should have no guilt in keeping them. After all, your tax dollars are paying for them. You can usually find a schedule of when the ponds, lakes, or rivers will be stocked, easy catching right? Hold on, even though it can be great Primal Family fun, don’t go chasing that hatchery truck just yet, at least not if you want to eat them. From a nutritional standpoint, a freshly stocked hatchery trout is exactly the same as a farm-raised trout. Not the best thing to eat but not the worst either, I mean at least it’s a whole food and not some packaged processed crap from the mega-mart.

If you leave that hatchery fish alone for about six months to a year and give him a chance to naturalize. The nutritional profile will change considerably, they will taste better, start getting smart and fight harder too.

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