Office of Law Enforcement
Pacific Region



August/September 2010

Trout Being "Bullied" out of Water

There’s nothing more awkward than seeing a fish out of water.  They flounder around and desperately try to flop themselves back to their watery home.  If they fail, they will slowly die.  Imagine seeing a field littered with floundering fish, or worse, littered with dead fish.  Well, this scenario isn’t too farfetched and could be happening in your own backyard!

Picture of Bull Trout lying on netting
Trout lying on netting.  Photo credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Farmers need water to keep their crops healthy.  Their crops are their livelihood and must have adequate water to grow and produce.  When rainfall falls short, farmers may pump water from a nearby stream, create irrigation ditches using a nearby body of water, or divert water from a nearby stream. Unfortunately, if such water sources are not tapped carefully, taking fish into consideration, they can suck fish out of the stream and pump or divert them onto the field along with the water.  Crops will thrive – but fish will die.


The bull trout, a species found throughout the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains, is one fish that has suffered this fate.  The bull trout received its name because of its large head and mouth.  The species is also distinguished by its predatory nature and diet, which consists of other fish and sometimes even frogs, snakes, mice and ducklings.  Many bull trout live in a single stream their entire lives, while others migrate.

Luckily, farmers can prevent the deaths of bull trout and other fish.They can use fish screens to avoid pumping fish onto their land while obtaining water for their crops. Fish screens prevent fish from being swept into the pump, irrigation ditch, or diversion and keep them in the streams, preserving their lives.  These barriers are available for use with each method of obtaining water for crops.  For more information on where to find fish screen manufacturers, talk to your regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office or your state fish and wildlife department.


Photo of several live bull trout
Bull trout.  Photo credit: USGS/Wikimedia Commons

State and federal government agencies actively promote the use of fish screens.  For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a member of the Anadromous Fish Screen Program in California’s Central Valley along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies.  This program reviews potential fish screen designs and gives technical guidance for water diverters.  It also provides up to 50 percent cost share funding per fish screen project.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has a fish screening program that allows water users to share the cost of putting in a fish screen and/or get a tax credit. 

Irrigation Canal
Irrigation canal. Photo credit: Maxdrobot/Wikimedia Commons

The bull trout is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act .  A threatened status means the bull trout is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  It is therefore illegal to kill bull trout without a permit.  Violating this law could result in up to a year in jail and fines of up to $100,000. 

To contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about this piece or to report a violation you have witnessed, please go to and click on the “contact us” link at the top of the page.



Last updated: December 3, 2013

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