Video Captures Thousands of Fish Being Dropped From Plane Into Lake

A video shared on social media shows thousands of fish being dropped from a plane and into a lake in Utah. While the video stands out on social media feeds, those piloting the plane are actually participating in a fairly routine process known as fish stocking.

The video, posted to Facebook by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, has collected more than 59,000 views. In the video, wildlife experts are seen preparing buckets of fish—more specifically, "fingerlings," or young fish that measure one to three inches long—which are then dispensed from the plane in groups over several different areas. This method of using a plane to stock fish across lakes in rivers is known simply as "aerial fish stocking;" a method with origins in Utah dating back to the 1950s.

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Fish stocking is a system in which fish bred in hatcheries are dropped into the wild for a variety of reasons, such as to restore populations or conduct research. The process remains the same with aerial fish stocking, save for the fact that the fish are released into the wild via plane vs. by road or by horseback.

More than 200 lakes throughout Utah are aerially stocked each year, according to an official document from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources obtained by Newsweek. Lakes stocked aerially are not accessible by vehicle or other methods of stocking; however, even if these areas could all be accessed by road, experts in Utah say that aerial fish stocking is a more cost-effective option, as the planes used can hold hundreds of pounds of water and up to 35,000 fish in a single flight.

Aerial fish stocking can be dangerous for both the pilot and the fish, forcing experts to make several considerations before making a drop. As stated in the document, pilots fly "just barely above the trees to drop the fish." Cliffs, mountains and tall trees can present themselves as obstacles, so a pilot's safety is always a "key consideration" when planning a drop.

To ensure the survival of the fish, experts drop fingerlings because their small size allows the air to slow their drop, causing them to fall "a bit like leaves," into the water. The survival rate of these drops would be much lower if larger fish were used.

Before dropping, experts also acclimate the fish to the temperatures of the lakes, and the fingerlings are weighed and counted to ensure the right species and the right amount of fish are being dropped into each lake.

Experts in Utah say that fish are typically being dropped in "fishless" lakes that no longer have natural reproduction. The fish that are dropped tend to be sterile, which is good, as experts can control their population size and avoid them negatively impacting native fish populations. And while the fingerlings dropped from these planes are bred in captivity and dropped from the air, "post-stocking netting surveys" prove that the survival rate of these fish is high. In response to one Facebook commenter, those in Utah said the survival rate can be higher than 95 percent.

Commenters were impressed with the video.

"Nice work! Happy to see how it's done," said a commenter named Travis. "Fun to fish in those high mountain lakes that are full of fish!"

Aerial fish stocking
A video posted by the Utah Divison of Wildlife Resources showing aerial fish stocking has garnered more than 59,000 views. This photo shows the jaw-dropping moment the "fingerlings" are deposited into the lake. Provided/Utah Division of Wildlife Resources