Sometime within the past ten years or so I became interested in native fish. I have nothing against any species, I just like to see fish that are “sup...moreSometime within the past ten years or so I became interested in native fish. I have nothing against any species, I just like to see fish that are “supposed” to be in a watershed, in that watershed, not some other species occupying that water. This desire to find native species in their native range has taken my fishing buddy and me to some out-of-the-way little creeks—we’re talking about places in the middle of the desert 100 miles from the nearest town. Creeks whose widths are measured in inches, not feet. But it doesn’t seem to matter where we go, how far away from “civilization” we get, we still come across water stocked with non-native species. Many of these places were stocked long before motorized travel was possible. And I’ve wondered what possessed people to stock fish in such places.
Anders Halverson’s new book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World, answers that question for me. In a fascinating look at the social and political maneuverings of the late nineteenth century through the present, Anders’ meticulous research lays bare some interesting tidbits of the stocking policies of the United States.
One such gem is that the government was worried about the strength of the nation’s men: that they had “notoriously less hardihood and endurance than the generation which preceded [their:] own” (George Perkins Marsh, congressman and diplomat from the mid-1800’s). This description was given in a report by Marsh under the auspices of the Legislature of Vermont on the Artificial Propagation of Fish. He further stated that “the sports of the chase” (angling being one of them) was a way to increase the hardiness of the Americans. At this time, many waterways were already seeing a decline in fish numbers and the artificial propagation of fish was seen as a way to increase those numbers. With the urge to increase the robustness of its men, and the decline fish population the underpinnings were there for the introduction of non-native species.
Last year Eccles (from the Turning Over Small Stones blog) and I had a discussion about the terms “Fish and Game” and “Fish and Wildlife” as used in various agencies: Why were the terms “fish” and “game” separate? Shouldn’t it just be Game or Wildlife, as in "Utah Game" or "US Wildlife Service" since fish are a type of game and fish are a type of wildlife? Anders informs us that by the 1870s congress formed the United States Fish Commission to help tackle the problem of declining fish stocks, thus becoming the first governmental agency involved with animal husbandry in the US. At a later time, the “game” and “wildlife” were added as the agency expanded. So, in my mind at least, this solves the mystery.
How the rainbow trout became the darling of the US Fish Commission, and just about every other angling agency in the world, is an interesting tale that Anders starts in San Francisco in 1872 with Livingston Stone looking for spawning salmon. He eventually found the McCloud River and began propagating salmon. By 1879 they were looking for a place on the McCloud to begin propagating trout as well. And they did, with astounding success.
Besides the historical ventures Anders skillfully and delightfully takes the reader on, he also dissects the biology of the stocking programs, covering the hardiness of a stock that is constantly used for breeding to whirling disease. He discusses the loss of native species and the response (or lack of it) of individual state fish and game departments, how some of them have switched from stocking to conservation.
This brings up an interesting problem that many fish and game departments need to tackle: what is their responsibility when sportsmen (who pay for licenses whose money is then possibly used to bankroll conservation and restoration instead of stocking), clamor for more catchable fish?
Through all of these topics Anders uses a reporters zeal for facts (I’ve estimated over 250 sources listed in the bibliography) and detachment, thereby keeping an even keel on reporting the facts and not stepping on a soapbox to expound one particular side over another. Even with this professional detachment, there is a keen sense of understanding and compassion shown for the stories he tells. For, if nothing else (but there is a lot of “else”), the book is full of stories told with the storyteller’s art.
Full Disclosure: I have corresponded with Anders a few times by email. I was one of the first couple of anglers to join his new website (Angler’s Life List and Native Fish Network). And when he said he had a book available to be reviewed, I asked for a copy. I don’t have anything to profit from this review except getting a free book. Which I already have.(less)
The writing is quite accessible. It's a well told story. Not everyone will agree with Stone's assertions, but he makes a valiant effort at showing an...moreThe writing is quite accessible. It's a well told story. Not everyone will agree with Stone's assertions, but he makes a valiant effort at showing an alternative side to Socrates. (less)
The most complete and up-to-date science and history concerning native cutthroat trout. This is a must have for all trout fishermen. Well researched a...moreThe most complete and up-to-date science and history concerning native cutthroat trout. This is a must have for all trout fishermen. Well researched and written.
All 12 cutthroat subspecies (and the two extinct ones) are covered in the book. Each cutthroat has an entire chapter dedicated to it. Each chapter is approximately 30-40 pages long. There is some repetition from subspecies to subspecies, but the author wanted to make sure that all information about a given species could be found in the chapter about that subspecies.
There are two introductory chapters that cover extremely useful information about identifying cutthroat, history and geographical distribution.
There are helpful footnotes in the text. Some great pictures of each subspecies. A few charts, tables and graphs are included.
There is a 60 page annotated bibliography covering more than 1000 sources for additional research.(less)