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An Entirely Synthetic Fish

An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World

Anders Halverson
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    An Entirely Synthetic Fish
    Book Description:

    Anders Halverson provides an exhaustively researched and grippingly rendered account of the rainbow trout and why it has become the most commonly stocked and controversial freshwater fish in the United States. Discovered in the remote waters of northern California, rainbow trout have been artificially propagated and distributed for more than 130 years by government officials eager to present Americans with an opportunity to get back to nature by going fishing. Proudly dubbed "an entirely synthetic fish" by fisheries managers, the rainbow trout has been introduced into every state and province in the United States and Canada and to every continent except Antarctica, often with devastating effects on the native fauna. Halverson examines the paradoxes and reveals a range of characters, from nineteenth-century boosters who believed rainbows could be the saviors of democracy to twenty-first-century biologists who now seek to eradicate them from waters around the globe. Ultimately, the story of the rainbow trout is the story of our relationship with the natural world-how it has changed and how it startlingly has not.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16686-6
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences, Biological Sciences, Environmental Science, Zoology, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    “Complaints are everywhere heard . . . that the public good is disregarded in the conflict of rival parties,” founding father James Madison wrote in a passage that sounds as if he planned a second career as an environmental policy analyst. When Madison expressed this thought inThe Federalist Papers, however, he did not have recreational fishermen, advocates of biodiversity, state and federal resource managers, or business owners in resort communities to cite as his examples. But if we could summon Madison for a twenty-first-century site visit to any popular trout-fishing stream, he would arrive with a well-designed conceptual framework...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. ONE A Less Bold and Spirited Nation
    (pp. 1-11)

    In the year 1872, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination were still fresh in the memory of most Americans. There were only about 40 million people in the United States, about as many as there are just in California today, and women were allowed to vote only in the states of Wyoming and Utah. Telephones and light bulbs were still in the future, horses and carriages still crowded the streets of America’s great cities, and President Ulysses S. Grant was fighting a bitter reelection campaign against publishing magnate Horace Greeley. A thirty-three-year-old of modest origins named John D. Rockefeller...

  7. TWO Essentially a National Matter
    (pp. 12-27)

    With the eruption of the Civil War in 1861, efforts to instill martial values in American men by encouraging recreational fishing were put on hold. Instead of fishing rods, men were given guns; instead of animals, men targeted each other. In addition, with so many of the nation’s people and resources dedicated to the war, there was little interest in the still experimental field of fish culture. But when that bloody conflict had ground down to its close, the idea of artificially propagating and growing fish gained renewed interest. Within five years of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865, at...

  8. THREE Let the Best Fish Win
    (pp. 28-35)

    Livingston Stone and his associates on the Mc-Cloud often get credit, at least among those who care enough to have an opinion, for being the first to propagate and disperse rainbow trout outside their native range. It would certainly make for a cleaner story. But unfortunately, it’s not true.¹

    In their early years on the McCloud, Stone and his crew frequently did, in fact, encounter rainbow trout in their nets. They even collected a few as museum specimens. But their primary mission was to propagate salmon, and they stayed focused. So if you are ever playing a fisheries trivia game,...

  9. FOUR As Many Different States as Possible
    (pp. 36-47)

    By 1879, Livingston Stone and his assistants on the McCloud had produced 45 million Chinook salmon eggs. And thanks to the growing network of railroads and the distribution system established by the U.S. Fish Commission, these eggs had been distributed to twenty-nine different states, from South Carolina to Maine, and even to interior waterbodies in Colorado and Utah. Yet despite these efforts, “In no single case did the experiment prove satisfactory.” Not a single new run of these salmon had become established. It was, Stone conceded, “a stupendous surprise and disappointment.”¹

    And so, one July morning in 1879, Stone and...

  10. FIVE A New Variety of Trout
    (pp. 48-57)

    So just what is a rainbow trout? That depends on whom you ask, and maybe even when. A taxonomist will likely give you a Latin name for the species and, if there is a big enough cocktail napkin handy, might even draw a branch of the tree of life looking something like this:

    Kingdom: Animalia

    Phylum: Chordata (animals with a dorsal nerve cord)

    Class: Actinopterygii (the ray-finned fishes)

    Order: Salmoniformes

    Family: Salmonidae (all of the present-day salmon and trout)


    Species:Oncorhynchus mykiss

    The important point is that scientific taxonomy today is based on evolution; each group contains all...

  11. SIX Define Me a Gentleman
    (pp. 58-75)

    Think of domesticated species like corn, or sheep, or dogs, and you probably think of them in terms of how useful they are to humanity. Consider the other side of the equation, though, as scientists and other thinkers have begun to do. These species have benefited from the arrangement at least as much as we have. Through backbreaking labor and industrial efficiency, we have served as protectors and providers for these species, transporting them throughout the globe. Teosinte, a wild grass that begat corn, now survives in only a few nooks and crannies in Mexico and Central America, while its...

  12. SEVEN Paying Customers and Hatchery Product
    (pp. 76-93)

    I doubt it’s as satisfying for the fish, but whatever they’re missing by being artificially spawned is at least partially offset by the evident satisfaction that people like John Riger derive from doing it for them. When I met him, Riger was managing the Crystal River Hatchery, an unprepossessing Colorado Division of Wildlife facility about thirty miles down valley from the glitter of Aspen, Colorado. On the clear but bitterly cold November day when visited, Riger stood waist deep in a concrete raceway with two assistants, spawning rainbow trout. The fish were reasonably big—they were at least eighteen inches...

  13. EIGHT A Full-Scale Military Operation
    (pp. 94-113)

    Above Flaming Gorge, the Green River drains most of southwestern Wyoming and a small chunk of northeastern Utah. It’s a big watershed. In fact, if it weren’t for some fancy political maneuvering by the Colorado congressional delegation in 1921, most people would probably recognize it today as the true origin of the Colorado River.¹

    For millions of years, the Green flowed unchecked through this high alpine desert, through a country of low buttes dotted with sagebrush, through a country of seemingly unceasing wind. And when it reached the southern end, in what is now Utah, the river carved through the...

  14. NINE Money Makes a Way
    (pp. 114-128)

    At about the same time that Miller and Hubbs were feverishly trying to drum up support for native fish and block the Green River poisoning, a backlash of a different sort was also taking place among some of the nation’s anglers. These fishermen didn’t object to the presence of nonnative trout in their streams—far from it—but they did oppose the catchable hatchery fish that seemingly every fish and game agency was increasingly growing and stocking.

    The opposition came largely from the ranks of the fly fishers, who scorned the bait fishermen with their new spinning reels and fiberglass...

  15. TEN The Way of the Passenger Pigeon
    (pp. 129-144)

    By 1991, Dick Vincent had been working at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for twenty-five years. The man who had begun his career challenging the established wisdom regarding hatcheries had become the establishment—as the fisheries manager for some of the state’s most famous waters, rivers like the Yellowstone, the Madison, the Missouri, the Big Hole, and the Gallatin. He spent most of his time behind his desk or conducting meetings and a lot less time in the field than he used to. His first hint that a crisis was occurring, therefore, came in the form of...

  16. ELEVEN A Single New Mongrel Species
    (pp. 145-164)

    The Environmental Protection Agency has the responsibility for implementing the Clean Water Act. Thirty years after the passage of the law, though, the EPA found it still could not reliably answer some of the most basic questions about the health of the nation’s freshwaters. So at the dawn of the new millennium, the agency began an ambitious program to determine the condition of the nation’s rivers and lakes. The officials in charge of the project used software to randomly select hundreds of sites throughout the country and then sent teams to survey them in every state.¹

    Thus, for five years,...

  17. TWELVE It Doesn’t Do Any Good
    (pp. 165-183)

    John Muir liked to call California’s Sierra Nevada “the Range of Light,” and once you’ve experienced the luminous granite, sparkling waters, and brilliant sunlight of the high country, it’s hard to think of those mountains in any other way. More than seven thousand lakes punctuate the range, providing welcome relief for hikers and a powerful draw for anglers from the valleys below.¹

    In the fall of 2006, I visited one of those lakes with some seasonal employees from the Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. Covering about twenty acres in the middle of a high granite...

  18. EPILOGUE The Last Generation of Troutfishers
    (pp. 184-188)

    More than a century ago, a famous Colorado preacher and politician named Myron Reed issued a wistful lament for his favorite pastime. “This is the last generation of troutfishers. The children will not be able to find any,” the reverend declared. “Not that trout will cease to be. They will be hatched by machinery and raised in ponds, and fattened on chopped liver, and grow flabby and lose their spots. The trout of the restaurant will not cease to be; but he is no more like the trout of the wild river than the fat and songless reed-bird is like...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 189-210)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-244)
  21. Index
    (pp. 245-258)