Invasive Alien Species?
Invasive Alien Species?

Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Some of you may be lucky enough to fish for those geographically isolated and somewhat rare native subspecies of rainbow and cutthroat trout that live out west or the two equally rare southwest species—Apache and Gila trout. But for most of us, when we catch a trout, it’s either a rainbow, brown or brook trout.  Oddly enough, two of these species of trout—rainbow and brown–are listed in the 100 of The World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.  Sounds pretty bad. Even the brook trout is considered an invasive species.

It’s hard to imagine that the beautifully iridescent, fat and feisty rainbow I just caught in a local river is an invasive species.  But when you learn about the history of these three fish—rainbow, brown and brook trout—you can see why they can be considered invasive.  For the fly fisherman, there have been 100s of books written describing these trout—their range, description, behaviors, habitat, etc.  But there are three volumes that really focus on the question: “Do You Know Where Your Trout Came From?”

One of my hobbies when I am not on the river is contributing to Wikipedia, something I’ve been doing on a consistent basis since 2007.  Of course my favorite subjects are Montana and Yellowstone history, and fly fishing and tying.  Since Wikipedia is a living encyclopedia that prides itself on reliably sourced content, there’s a scholarly element to being a contributor.  Last year I started working extensively on the articles related to the major species of trout.  While doing so, I read three books that I would commend to anyone who wants an answer to: “Do You Know Where Your Trout Came From?”  These aren’t fishing books, but rather well researched, well told stories about the histories of the trout we take for granted.

For the rainbow trout or steelhead enthusiast: An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World by Anders Halverson (2010). No one could have imagined that when the first rainbow trout were being propagated in 1870 in a hatchery in San Francisco and on the McCloud River in Northern California in 1877, they were creating one of the most popular game fish in the world and one of the most invasive.

Equally fascinating is The Trout’s Tale – The Fish That Conquered an Empire by Chris Newton (2013). Newton tells the story of the travels of the brown trout.  This is a British publication available from Medlar Press.  The story of how the brown trout found its way to the Americas, Australasia and points in between is a story of persistence.

Brook Trout: A Thorough Look at North America’s Great Native Trout- Its History, Biology, and Angling Possibilities by Nick Karas (2002).  Why is our native trout of the East Coast so revered there is considered a pest in the West?

do you know 2It’s easy to lament the loss of native species and genetic purity through interspecific hybridization.  It is easy to hold those acclimatization societies and aggressive government propagation and introduction programs of the 19th and early 20th century accountable for the loss of native species.  Equally, it is easy to rejoice in the foresight of these same entities in establishing world class fisheries in previously barren waters.  Every season, I catch brown, rainbow and brook trout in that storied fishery, the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.  Without the foresight of U.S. Army Captain Frazier Boutelle, Military Superintendent of the park, no one would be catching fish in the Firehole today.

Thank You Captain Boutelle and Colonel McDonald
Thank You Captain Boutelle and Colonel McDonald

In 1889 he wrote: “Besides the beautiful Shoshone and other smaller lakes, there are hundreds of miles of as fine streams as any in existence without a fish of any kind. I have written Col. Marshall McDonald, U.S. Fish Commission, upon the subject, and have received letters from him manifesting a great interest. I hope through him to see all of these waters so stocked that the pleasure-seeker in the Park can enjoy fine fishing within a few rods of any hotel or camp.” (A Grand Experiment, 100 Years of Fisheries Management in Yellowstone, by Mark Franke, 1996)

Building on decades of experimentation by pisciculturists Seth Green, Fred Mather and many others, propagating and introducing desirable species into streams, rivers and lakes was routine by the 1890s. In 1889 seven thousand brook, brown and rainbow trout were introduced into Yellowstone National Park waters previously barren of any species of fish.  Such introductions were common throughout the U.S. and the world in the 19th and early 20th century to create new fisheries or build up and sustain depleted ones.  Unfortunately, many native species suffered. But fortunately, a great many wild self-sustaining fisheries, many world class, were established.  The stories of where your trout came from makes for interesting reading, and above all, connect you to the history of that beautiful trout that just came to hand.

 

1 Comment

  1. Intriguing article, Mike; those sound like terrific reading. We’ve all walked into various conversations about the planting of trout, whether relating to species that are resistant to Whirling Disease, or to discuss hatchery policies that claim to avoid genetic dilution, or just by learning about some unlikely little creek (such as the stream on Hawaii’s Island of Kaua’i, deep in the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” where rainbows were introduced…I believe back around the 1920’s…to thrive to this day).

    > Do You Know Where Your Trout Came From?

    I guess I don’t. Time to study up. Until your article I was going to say Safeway.

    – Mike

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