A Plane in Utah Lets the Fish Fly

A widely shared video shows fish bursting out of a small plane, highlighting a method the state has used for more than a half-century to restock lakes.

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The sky was blue, the trees were green — a perfect day to be flying above a sparkling lake in southern Utah. A door at the bottom of a small plane opened, and thousands of fish burst out in a torrent of water, their bodies twirling as they cascaded into the lake below.

This was no mirage. The scene was captured in a video released recently by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources that shows how the agency restocks lakes with fish.

The aerial dumping is done to repopulate species that recreational anglers fish in high-elevation lakes that are not easily accessible by vehicle, said Faith Jolley, a spokeswoman for the wildlife division. The one shown in the video, which has garnered more than a million views on Instagram and Facebook, took place on July 6 in Boulder Mountain, Utah.

“Did you know that we stock fish in Utah by AIRPLANE?!” the wildlife division asked in a post promoting the video. (The resounding answer, according to comments online, was no.)

“Those fish will meet others in the lake and tell stories about how cool they were when they were young,” one person commented. “That they used to sky-dive for fun.”

In the video, the young brook trout and tiger trout, called fingerlings, were released in a burst of water, their one- to three-inch bodies spinning in midair before falling into the water. Given their tiny size, the wildlife division said, the fish fall slowly, buoyed by the air like autumn leaves falling from a tree.

Their survival rate is 95 percent, according to the wildlife division, which said it can drop up to 35,000 two-inch fish in a single flight — enough to replenish about 40 to 60 lakes a day. The planes fly “just barely above the trees,” the wildlife division said.

The fish don’t reproduce naturally in many of Utah’s lakes, so the “planes are just the most efficient way to provide fish for anglers,” said Chris Penne, a regional aquatic manager for the wildlife division.

The aerial restocking is done in the summer because the lakes freeze over in the winter, and summer is when the fish in hatcheries grow large enough to be dropped from the planes, Ms. Jolley said.

The process, which the wildlife division said was cost-effective, has been used in Utah from as early as 1956. Before that, horses would transport metal milk cans filled with fish and water to remote areas.

Wade Wilson, a biologist for the wildlife division, rides in the plane with the pilot as they travel from lake to lake, sometimes carrying up to 70 pounds of fish.

Biologists acclimate the fish to the water temperature and pH level of the lakes before loading them on the plane, he said. While in the air, the fish tanks are pumped with oxygen so the fish aren’t stressed in the water, Mr. Wilson said.

“It’s something that not everybody gets to do or even hear about in their lifetime, but it’s pretty amazing to be up there in the plane,” Mr. Wilson said, adding that the actual release of the fish happens in a matter of seconds.

“Things that we consider day-to-day stuff, others seem to find very exciting, and that’s a good thing,” Mr. Penne said. “It’s a thrill that people get a little bit of awe and wonder out of it.”

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