People began stocking western high-elevation lakes with fish in the 1800s. Hatchery operations at Yellowstone Lake became part of this undertaking when fish hatched from Yellowstone’s trout were used to stock waters in the park and elsewhere, sportfishing was promoted to encourage park visitation, and satisfying a recreational interest took precedence over protection of the park’s natural ecology. Built in 1930 by the National Park Service, the hatchery’s log-framed design is also an example of the period of rustic architectural design in national parks.
The hatchery was thought to be among the most modern in the West. The main room was outfitted with tanks and raceways for eggs, fingerlings, and brood fish taken from 11 streams that flowed into the lake. Small fry were fed in three rectangular rearing ponds in a nearby creek until they were ready for planting. Superintendent Horace Albright explained that the hatchery had also been designed with visitor education in mind, by making it possible “to take large crowds through the building under the guidance of a ranger naturalist without in any way impairing the operations of the Bureau of Fisheries."
Yellowstone was the largest supplier of wild cutthroat trout eggs in the United States, and its waters received native and nonnative fish. A rift developed, however, between the federal fish agencies and the National Park Service, which began moving away from policies that allowed manipulation of Yellowstone’s natural conditions. In 1936 Yellowstone managers prohibited the distribution of nonnative fish in waters that did not yet have them and opposed further hatchery constructions in the park’s lakes and streams. After research showed that it impaired fish reproduction, egg collection was curtailed in 1953. Four years later, the fish hatchery ceased operations and the US Fish and Wildlife Service transferred ownership of the building to the National Park Service. Official stocking of park waters ended by 1959.
Vegetation and stream flow have largely reclaimed the rearing ponds on Hatchery Creek, but their outlines can still be detected, and the most serious results of fish planting are irreversible. Nonnative fish can alter aquatic ecology through interbreeding or competition with native species. Although its condition has deteriorated, the hatchery building has changed relatively little. Nearly all of the exterior and interior materials are original to the building or have been repaired in kind. Now used as a storage facility, it is the primary structure of the nine buildings in the Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District, which was listed on the National Register in 1985.
Native Fish Species
Native fish underpin natural food webs and have great local economic significance.
Native Fish Conservation Program
Learn how the Native Fish Conservation Program works to preserve Yellowstone Lake cutthroat trout and to restore fluvial trout populations.
Last updated: November 4, 2019