Resource allocation for fisheries management and conservation in the United States has not grown substantially in recent years, and there is ongoing debate over how limited resources should be used to create, maintain, or restore fisheries. Hatcheries have been in existence in North America since 1848, but their organization and role in fisheries management are not widely understood or appreciated. The continuing debate about hatcheries has painted them in broad strokes, with critics suggesting that hatcheries are altogether ineffective, unnecessary, too costly to operate, or do more harm than good to wild populations. Such characterizations fail to capture the diversity of hatchery operations and do not acknowledge the hatchery reform initiatives of the past 20 years or public expectations and legal requirements that influence the production and use of hatchery‐origin fish. In this paper, we describe the current number and distribution of fish hatcheries operated for public purposes in North America, provide insights on the costs and benefits of hatcheries operated for public use and other public trust purposes, provide initial cost comparisons to habitat rehabilitation or restoration, and consider the role of hatcheries into the future as a fisheries management tool.
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