Original article can be found at http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-news/ci_14348854#axzz0ftv8oGFE
Originally published on February 6, 2010
By Sarah Horn
More than a century ago, America’s government leaders wanted to encourage men to get back in touch with their primal abilities because they thought industrialization had diminished their masculinity, according to a new book written by a University of Colorado professor. Their cure was to give them something to capture and kill. And so America’s waterways were stocked with a fish that fought the line and gave anglers just enough of a challenge: the rainbow trout.
In his new book, “An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World,” Anders Halverson, an ecologist and research associate at CU’s Center of the American West, discusses the history of one of America’s favorite game fish.
“The thought was that the men will go out and fish, become strong and then democracy will be safe,” Halverson said.
Halverson’s book, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, explores the rise and prominence of the rainbow trout in America’s environmental history, both in driving an industry and its continued dominance over native species.
Before the government began stocking rainbow trout throughout the nation, its natural range was along the West Coast
from Alaska to Mexico with a little crossover into Nevada. Stocking is still a widespread practice — except in Montana, which stopped stocking rainbows in streams and rivers that supported wild trout populations in 1974.
Now, for every three people in the U.S. there is one rainbow trout stocked in many of its waterways, according to Halverson.
Anglers love rainbow trout for their fight — they jump out of the water to avoid being caught — and their size. The world record catch is 48 pounds.
“They are the Goldilocks of trout. They are between the cutthroat trout and the brown trout. Cutthroat are really easy to catch, you could call them naive. The brown are different, referred to as well-educated,” Halverson said. “Rainbow trout are right in the middle.”
Fisheries managers tend to appreciate trout for a different reason: They are easier to raise in hatcheries than other fish.
“A fish hatchery is a cross between a sacred cow and a military base — no one wants to get rid of fisheries because they are a large component of local economies,” Halverson said.
Halverson has fished his entire life. While growing up in Denver in the 70s, the rainbow trout was the state fish. The irony of honoring a non-native fish as a state symbol, and the contradiction of getting out into the wild to catch a farmed fish, both became a central consideration in Halverson’s book.
“There’s a fascinating paradox about fishing. A lot of anglers I see fishing as an escape of civilization and industrialization or a spiritual escape from society,” Halverson said. “Yet you have a paradox of most of the fish they catch are the product of industrialization.”
The introduction of rainbow trout has also had environmental consequences. The fish are thought to hybridize with native trout, which affects their genetic structure and ability to survive.
There are more than a dozen types in Colorado with many considered either, threatened, endangered or at-risk by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The most striking anecdote from the book for Jeff Mitton, a professor of ecology at CU who writes a science column for the Camera, was when Halverson wrote about the poisoning of 450 miles of the Green River in 1962. The government poured the poison, rotenone, into the river intending to create a clean slate for restocking with rainbows. The creation of the Endangered Species Act can by traced back to this poisoning, according to Halverson.
“What should be done and what ought to be done has changed immensely. There was a time when no one saw a disadvantage to bringing in the rainbow trout,” Mitton said. “No one saw any downside, it was beautiful and fun to fish.”
Mitton, who is well-educated on the controversy of rainbow trout stocking, thinks the book fills a gap in understanding about an issue that is relatively unknown outside the fishing community.
The spread of stocking rainbows began as a response to what was perceived as a cultural problem and now it continues to meet demand by anglers and an industry built around it. Mitton said that it is hard to distinguish a right and wrong side to the issue.
“There are honest differences of opinion that have the best of intentions,” Mitton said. “There aren’t good people and bad people involved here.”