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Trout Production in Western North Carolina

Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), native to the west coast of North America, were introduced to western North Carolina streams in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by logging companies. Upon completion of the logging, rainbow trout were used to restock streams impacted by the logging. About 40% of present stockings by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission continue to be rainbow trout. It has evolved into a highly desirable game and food fish.

Commercial trout farming began in North Carolina more than 60 years ago. In fact, North Carolina presently ranks second in the United States in commercial trout production, behind Idaho. Four to five million pounds of rainbow trout are produced each year in western North Carolina at 40 commercial trout farms. The average trout farm produces about 140,000 pounds per year. Most of the production is in concrete raceways. However, earthen ponds continue to be used by some farmers.

The life cycle of rainbow trout at a commercial farm is completed in one to two years. Eggs or fingerlings are initially stocked on the farm. The trout are fed a commercially prepared diet. The ingredients in the feed remain essentially the same throughout the life of the trout, although the size of the feed pellets increases to match the size of the trout. (See Feed Suppliers, Care of Trout Fingerlings, Trout Feed Chart , and Leitritz & Lewis Feed Chart). Most trout are harvested at a market size of one to three pounds and are processed into a variety of forms before delivery to market. Red and white fillets, whole trout with or without the bones, pate’ or dip, and a variety of smoked products are only a few of the items available (See Fresh Rainbow Trout).

The red fillet is popular among consumers. This red color is produced by adding a pigment to the feed which is slowly deposited in the flesh of the trout. This takes 8 to 12 weeks to give the trout fillets an orange-red color.

The term “salmonid” refers to all salmon, trout, and char. Taxonomic classification of rainbow trout has defined it as being closely related to the Pacific salmon. Rainbow trout, Pacific salmon, and cutthroat trout are all thought to have evolved from a common ancestor.

Brook “trout” (Salvelinus fontinalis) is the only salmonid native to western North Carolina, and is actually not a trout but a char. These fish are closely related to arctic char and lake trout (char), which are found further north. Brook trout are produced commercially in small numbers locally, primarily for fishing clubs.

Brown trout (Salmo trutta) are also produced in the area in small quantities for fishing clubs. The brown trout is native to Europe and was first introduced to the United States in 1883. This fish is closely related to Atlantic salmon.

Trout Production and Sales for North Carolina and U.S.
January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018
Item Number
of Sales
Average Value
per Pound
2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018
1,000 1,000 Dollars Dollars
North Carolina
Foodsize 3,500 3,640 4,150 4,000 $7,885 $7,600 $1.90 $1.90
United States
Foodsize 40,965 35,810 53,887 47,438 $102,737 $90,783 $1.91 $1.91

from: National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)

Foodsize = Trout usually longer than 12 inches, grown commercially for food, usually weighing from three-fourths to one and one-half pounds.