Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Should We Stop Stocking Non-native Trout? by Don Orth

Did we ever decide that non-native stocking was wrong?  The question is value laden.  Science can explain much about the phylogeny and competitive displacement of trout species.  However, deciding what is right or wrong involves consideration of values.  David Hume (1711-1776) articulated the “is-ought” problems or the fact-value gap. His philosophical law maintains that one cannot make statements about what ought to be based on statements about what is.  The NOFI (No-Ought-From-Is) idea that one cannot deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ means that we can make no logically valid arguments from the non-moral to the moral.   

Many thought they were doing the right thing for the world at the time of indiscriminate and inconsiderate stocking of non-native trout.  Maybe they were. But they violated Orth’s ‘no irreversible decisions’ law of fisheries management.  Stocking nonnative fishes outside their native range is passing through a door that goes in one direction --  there’s no going back.   Once introduced, the consequences are uncertain AND cannot be reversed.

We understand values of fish for fishing and food.  Trout provided for the well-being of trout anglers, were of cultural importance to settlers of the frontier, and provided direct financial gains for trout guides and private hatcheries. All of these were instrumental values, but other values of trout may be intrinsic or relational.  The more we study trout in a variety of settings, the more diverse the set of values held will be.  Conflicts over values affect decision making and the stocking of nonnatives trouts only considered a narrow set of instrumental values. Nature’s gifts (or nature’s contributions) to well-being broaden the values perspectives (Pascual et al 2017).  Is stocking non-natives right or wrong? The answer depends on the value argument.  What values are harmed with stocking?  Consider the intrinsic values of protecting unique and irreplaceable evolutionary lineages of native trout. Instrumental values arguments would focus on value of encouraging a vibrant economy based on abundant, catchable trout.  Relational values arguments would focus on unique way of life harmed by introduction of nonnatives. 

Seth Green from (1870) Trout Culture. Public Domain  Source
Suffice it to say, these values arguments were not part of the public discussions at the end of the 19th century.   Trout populations were declining while a new scientific technology was developing that might reverse the decline.  Seth Green, is credited with being the father of fish culture.  He developed the first private fish hatchery in North America in Caledonia, New York, primarily to provide Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout for food fish markets.  Soon Green’s hatchery was also producing American Shad, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout for stocking.  More than any other individual, he is credited with introducing Rainbow Trout east of the Continental divide, Brook Trout to western states, and Brown Trout throughout the U.S. (Karas 2002; Halverson 2010; Newton 2013).   His comprehensive work Trout Culture (1870) was used by hatchery managers throughout the continent.  
Before scientists understood the evolutionary history of the native trouts and chars of North America, hatcheries were built, eggs were taken, and millions of fish were stocked to provide trout fishing.  Rainbow Trout are the state fish of Colorado and Utah, but get this—they are not native to these states.  Before the end of the 19th century, Rainbow Trout were propagated and widely introduced outside their range by the Ornithological and Piscatorial Acclimatizing Society of California.  Seth Green was shipping eggs and fry across the continent (Halverson 2010, p 28).  The New York Fish Commission promoted the superiority of the Rainbow Trout for their hardiness, ease of hatching, game qualities, ease of capture, and fighting qualities (Halverson 2010, p 35).  Soon U.S. Fisheries Commissioner, Spencer Fullerton Baird, instructed Livingston Stone to build another hatchery devoted to Rainbow Trout on the McCloud River, California.  Since that time, the National Fish Strain Register has described 64 strains and even more broodstocks of Rainbow Trout (Kincaid et al. 2001). Despite lessons learned from Carp plantings as a food-fish-turned-pest species (Bartlett 2010), all reports on nonnative trouts were positive, until they weren’t.
Three voices from the 20th century were critical of indiscriminate stocking when state and US governments were investing heavily in more trout hatcheries. 
Leopold's trips to the Rio Gavilan region of the northern Sierra Madre in 1936 and 1937 helped to shape his thinking about land health.  CC-BY-2.0 Pacific Southwest Region US Forest Service Source
Aldo Leopold, after completing a Master of Forestry at Yale University, worked at the Apache National Forest in the Arizona Territory. Carson National Forest in New Mexico, and regional headquarters in Albuqueque, New Mexico. In this region, Leopold would be familiar with the endemic Apache trout Onchorhyncus gilae apache, Gila trout Onchorhynchus gilae gilae, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout Onchorhynchus clarkia virginalis.  Based on his observations on trout in these waters, he presented a paper on “Mixing trout” (Leopold 1918; Warren 2010).  He wrote that “Nature, in stocking trout waters, sticks to one species.”  And Leopold recommended to “Restock with the best adapted species, the native species always preferred,” (Leopold, 1918, p. 102).  Furthermore, in restocking empty waters, “ordinarily native and indigenous species are preferable” (Leopold, 1915, p. 95).   It would be years later that he reconstituted these ideas in these famous words:
 The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Leopold (1993, p 145-146)

Illustration of James A. Henshall,  author of Book of the Black Bass (1889). Public Domain.  Source
James A. Henshall, while best known for his Book on the Black Bass, was the first superintendent of the Bozeman National Fish Hatchery from 1897 until 1909.  The Bozeman hatchery produced Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout for Colorado and Montana.  Henshall described the accidental release of Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout into Bridger Creek.  His words were “if depleted waters had been stocked with native fishes, this happy and natural condition of affairs might have continued for many years to come” (Henshall, 1919, p. 167).
"Conservationists are notorious for their dissensions.... In each field one group (A) regards the land as soil. and its function as commodity-production; another group (B) regards the land as a biota, and its function as something broader." (Leopold 1947).
Edwin “Phil” Pister read the works of Aldo Leopold while in graduate school. He worked as fisheries biologist with California Department of Fish and Game during the height of the hatchery era. Hatchery trout and trophy fishing fueled a tourist economy in the High Sierra mountains of California.  License buyers who funded most agency programs also overwhelmingly viewed trout as a commodity, they were group A in Leopold's terms. Only one game species managed for fishing was native and that was the California Golden Trout Onchorhynchus mykiss aguabonita, which is the state freshwater fish of California. Others species that were not managed were on the verge of extinction.  In fact, one of the desert fishes, the Ash Meadows Poolfish Empetrichthys merriami went extinct before the Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge was established.  In a visit to speak to Virginia Tech students after his retirement in 1991, Phil told the story of how in 1969 he scooped rare Owens Pupfish Cyprinodon radiosus out of a shoe-deep slough sure to dry.  That day he literally saved the last population of Owens Pupfish—moving 800 fish in 2 buckets—away from certain destruction.  Note: this was before passage of the Endangered Species Act.

Edwin "Phil" Pister.  Credit: Greg Boyer/OneHorseStudio.com

Pister worked tirelessly to establish and maintain the Desert Fishes Council. This group’s mission is to “preserve the biological integrity of desert aquatic ecosystems and their associated life forms, to hold symposia to report related research and management endeavors, and to effect rapid dissemination of information concerning activities of the Council and its members.”   His work on Golden Trout began in 1959 when it was apparent the state fish was at risk of extinction. In the 1970s, he sided with the National Park Service against his agency directive.   Park Service policy was that “Trout are not indigenous to the lakes of the High Sierra, they would no longer be planted in park waters.”  Phil Pister also worked to reduce threats to the rare and threatened subspecies of Golden Trout in high elevation streams of California.  Phil Pister likes to quote Stephen Jay Gould:  We are trapped in the ignorance of our own generation.

My role as a scientist is not to make a choice for all people about which trout to stock where?  However, I can demand that all people consider the potential problems that arise from our newfound scientific knowledge and capabilities.  Your value arguments about non-native trout stocking matter.   Yes, it will take time and slow down decision making, but the alternative is a public that does not engage nor trust the process of fish conservation and management.
California Golden Trout CC-BY-SA-4.0.  DaveWiz84, Source
Bartlett, S.P. 1910. The future of the carp. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 39(1):151-154.
Halverson, A. 2010. An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World.  Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut. pp. 32–34.
Henshall, J.A. 1919. Indiscriminate and inconsiderate planting of fish.  Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 48:166-169.
Karas, N. 2002. Brook Trout: A Thorough Look at North America's Great Native Trout – Its History, Biology, and Angling Possibilities, Revised Edition. Lyons Press, NY. p. 75.
Kincaid, H.L., M.J. Gray, L.J. Mengel, and S. Brimm. 2001. National fish strain registry — Trout species tables of reported strains and broodstocks. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Geological Survey 98-032/NF https://archive.org/details/nationalfishstra02kinc/page/n1
Leopold, Aldo. 1918. Mixing trout in western waters. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 47(3):101-102.
Leopold, A. 11993. Round River, Oxford University Press, New York
Newton, C. 2013. The Trout's Tale – The Fish That Conquered an Empire. Medlar Press, Ellesmere, Shropshire. pp. 115–116.
Pascual, U., Balvanera, P., Díaz, S., Pataki, G., Roth, E., Stenseke, M., et al. 2017. Valuing nature’s contributions to people: the IPBES approach. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2:7–16. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2016.12.006
Pister, E.P.  1992. A Pilgrim’s progress from group A to group B.  Pages 5-10 in G.H. Reeves, D.L. Bottom, and M.H. Brookes, technical coordinators.  Ethical questions for resource managers.  General Technical Report PNW-GTR-288. US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 39 pp.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.2737/PNW-GTR-288
Warren, J. L. 2010.  Weaving a wider net for conservation: Aldo Leopold’s water ethic.  Organization and Environment 23(2):220-232.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rocky Mountain Trout Fishing, by Don Orth

Fly fishing for trout in the western US is more than a leisure activity. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It begins with “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” Later Maclean writes that "Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart.” The iconography of western fly fishing that Maclean and others wrote about was created by anglers, fisheries managers, tourists, guides, businesses, and region promoters.  The history of Rocky Mountain fly fishing parallels the history of our western frontier as well as fisheries management (Brown 2015). Although Henry David Thoreau maintained that “In wildness is the salvation of the world,” humans are part of the trout fishing system and helped create, destroy, or maintain the trout fishing we have today.  Here I provide a brief overview of this history.  

Montana is world famous for its fly fishing—yet a brochure boasts a photo of a brown trout on the cover (see below).  I’m not a purist or a nativist when it comes to trout. Admittedly rainbow trout outnumber native brook trout in my home state as well as surrounding states.  History of trout fishing is far from sacred.  

Cover of brochure of the Montana River Outfitters.
Era of the Displaced Native Americans (or Custer’s Last Trout Fishing

First trout fishers were native Americans. Native Americans used a variety of fishing methods, including weirs, spears, nets, traps, baskets, hook and line methods, baits, and even deer hair in flies. Native Americans also caught fish by hand via tickling or huddling.  This method is different from noodling for catfish, where the noodler uses fingers as bait grabbing the catfish by its mouth. American naturalist William Bartram (1739-1823) described native Americans fly fishing (Monahan ND). 

The story of Rocky Mountain trout fishing begins with displacement of native Americans from their fishing and hunting grounds. Uninhabited wilderness had to be created through the dispossession of Native people before it could be preserved (Spence 1999).  Explorers, trappers, pioneers, soldiers, and homesteaders brought fishing gear to frontier outposts.  The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806) included a designated angler, named Silas GoodrichThe expedition first described several new species of fish, including the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and Westslope Cutthroat Trout, caught by Goodrich. Later military expeditions spent time trout fishing in addition to fighting Native Americans. Custer last stand might have been avoided if he’d joined a column of reinforcements under General George Crook.  Crook’s soldiers were comfortably camped close by on Goose Creek near the Tongue River—fishing (Monnett 1993; Owens 2002; Lessner 2010). Crook was a fly fisher, and it’s sad to think Custer would have avoided his last stand at Little Bighorn if he went fishing with General Crook.

Era of Rugged Individualism 

The term ‘rugged individualism’indicates the ideal whereby an individual is totally self-reliant and independent from outside, usually state or government, assistance. It is closely associated with the western expansion. Frontier settlers were disproportionately male, prime-age, illiterate, and foreign-born (Buzzi et al. 2017).   The Homestead Act (1862) provided adult citizens who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land.  Settlers did not want government interference with his freedom as he followed the frontier road to riches. By the 1890s loggers were removing timber, trappers we’re removing beavers, farmers were irrigating arid lands for agriculture, and some were buying land for fishing in remote areas of Rocky Mountain.  Miners and railroad workers introduced fishing with dynamite. 

The American Angler's Book: Embracing the Natural History of Sporting Fish, and the Art of Taking Them.
by Thaddeus Norris.  
When did rugged individualist become elitist fly fishers? The first fly fishers who visited wrote for outdoor magazines popularized the notion of Rocky Mountains as a paradise for fly fishing.   One of these was Thaddeus Norris, “Uncle Thad” (1811-1877), who wrote The American Angler’s Book in 1864.   Fly fishing at the time was a luxury and a leisure pursuit of only the wealthy in the U.S. Also, according to Mordue (2009) “in practice, but wholly in terms of social class distinctions fly fishing in the USA retained a sense of masculine individualism but was a means of conspicuous consumption where the angling tourist exercised power over local land and people.”

This led to a second wave of western expansion by those who argued that fly fishing was more ethical than spearfishing methods used by native Americans and fishing with hook and line to feed the homesteader's family.  This second wave include many writers who wax poetic when it comes to fly fishing.  Some writers —who are also fly fishers — claim that “fly fishers are better people all around.” (Soos 1999, p 18). At some point the frontier trout fishermen noted declines in rich abundance of trout.  Methods other than hook and line for catching trout were outlawed in most states and territories by late 19th century. Barton Evermann (1891, 1894) and David Starr Jordan (1890) were among the early Ichthyologists who did surveys in the Rocky Mountain streams.  In his 1889 surveys, Jordan commented on the many trout entrained in irrigation ditches and “left to perish in the fields.”  He also commented on the many surveyed waters where eastern brook trout were introduced and doing well. Declines in numbers of trout were inevitable...due to many causes including fishing, mining, overgrazing, water diversion, dams, logging, and removal of large wood.  The irony of rugged individuals asking for government assistance in building federal and state trout hatcheries led to the next era.   

“God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”
 Izaak Walton

Hatchery Era

Trout hatcheries were an American invention and the American Fish Culturists’ Association (now the American Fisheries Society was formed in 1870). The first federal fish hatchery, known as the Baird Hatchery, was established in 1872 on the McCloud River in California.  Soon it was shipping eggs of trout and salmon throughout the US and the world (Stone 1897). Other federal hatcheries were soon built in Leadville, Colorado (1889), Bozeman, Montana (1892), and Spearfish, South Dakota (1896) to stock Cutthroat Trout, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout into waters.  The first fish hatchery in Virginia was constructed by the Virginia Fish Commission in 1879 at a spring on Tate's Run near Wytheville (Chitwood 1989).   
Baird Hatchery Station on McCloud River, California.  Mount Persephone in background.  Public Domain from Livingstone Stone (1897 )  Source
Many millions of trout are produced and stocked each year to meet the demand for trout fishing. Stocking catchable trout provides higher returns and angler satisfaction (Wiley et al. 1993). But it is an expensive undertaking and bio security and fish health concerns requires substantial infrastructure improvements as well as feed and personnel costs.  While fly fishers brought notions of fishing for sport, not subsistence, and concern for angler ethics, they lobbied for regulation changes that provided more waters for fly fishing.  But scientists investigating trout waters soon revealed the fallacy of hatchery solutions and we entered the Wild Trout Restoration Era.

Wild Trout Restoration Era

An emphasis on the hatchery strategy masked a long legacy of detrimental effects of mining, dewatering, overgrazing, and other forms of stream degradation. Trout Unlimited, the largest and certainly most prominent cold‐water fishery conservation association in the USA with more than 150,000 members were vocal advocates for habitat protection.   Yet, it took many years to convince fisheries managers to quit heavy stocking.  In 1974, after studies by Dick Vincent, Montana Fish and Game Commission Montana stunned anglers across the state and the nation and stopped stocking trout in streams and rivers that supported wild trout populations (Zacheim 2006). The new strategy was based on a concept of self-propagating fisheries rather than hatchery supplementation.  Pierce et al. (2019) chronicle the many projects to focus on habitat protection and restoration to restore wild trout to the Blackfoot River.  Roderick Haig-Brown preached earlier to “just protect the habitat, the rest will take care of itself" (Sloan and Prosek 2003, p 144). This admonition to "first protect" is the foundation of Trout Unlimited’s conservation approach. Numerous restoration methods are needed for trout stream restoration, including enhancing instream flows in trout-rearing areas, preventing fish loss in irrigation canals, reconstructing altered streams to naturalize channel form and function, and fencing livestock from riparian areas (Pierce et al. 2019).

The future of wild trout and wild trout fishing is threatened by a legacy of beaver extirpation, logging, wood removal, dams, irrigation withdrawals, and more. Popular game fish, such as Walleye and Northern Pike (McMahon and Bennett 1996), and nonnative trout (Dunham et al. 2002, 2004; Quist and Hubert 2004; Budy and Gaeta  2018) displace native trout in the Rocky Mountain region. Whirling disease introduced from infected trout has the potential to reduce wild trout populations. But the threat of climate change on wild trout, especially Bull Trout and Cutthroat Trout may be most difficult to mitigate because these species are already constrained to high elevations and latitudes (Kunkel et al. 2013; Isaak et al. 2015).   The era of wild trout restoration will dominate the actions of fisheries and land managers for the next generation.
Westslope Cutthroat Trout Onchorhynchus clarkii lewisi  (Richardson, 1836)
Photo by National Park Service.  Source.
Brown, J. C. 2015. Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press.  248 pp.
Budy, P., and J.W. Gaeta. 2018. Brown Trout as an invader: A synthesis of problems and perspectives in North America. Pages 525-543 in Javier Lobón-Cerviá and Nuria Sanz, editors, Brown Trout: Biology, Ecology and Management, First Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Buzzi, S., M. Fiszbein, and M. Gebreskilasse. 2017. Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism” in the United States.  NBER Working Paper No. 23997 76 pp. 
Chitwood, W. R. 1989. The Old Wytheville Fish Hatchery," The Mountain Laurel - The Journal of Mountain Life, September, 1989, http://mtnlaurel.com/mountain-memories/1576-the-old-wytheville-fish-hatchery.html
Dunham, J.B., S.B. Adams, R.E. Schroeter, and D.C. Novinger. 2002. Alien invasions in aquatic ecosystems: toward an understanding of brook trout invasions and potential impacts on inland cutthroat trout in western North America. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 12, 373–391.
Dunham, J.B., P.S. Pilliod, and M.K. Young. 2004. Assessing the consequences of nonnative trout in headwater ecosystems in western North America. Fisheries 29(6):18-26.
Haig-Brown, V. 1997. Deep Currents: Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown.  Orca Book Publishers, Victoria, B.C.
Evermann, B. W. 1891. A reconnaissance of the streams and lakes of western Montana and northwestern Wyoming. Fishery Bulletin 11(1):1-60
Evermann, B.W., and C. Ritter. 1894. The Fishes of the Colorado basin. fishery Bulletin 14(1):473-486.  
Isaak, D., M. Young, D. Nagel, D. Horan, and M. Groce. 2015. The cold-water climate shield: delineating refugia for preserving salmonid fishes through the 21st century. Global Change Biology 21:2540–2553.
Jordan, D. S. 1890. Report of Explorations in Colorado and Utah during the Summer of 1889, with an Account of the Fishes Found in Each of the River Basins Examined. N.d. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/BPshL0. Accessed 22 July 2019.
Kunkel, K.E., Stevens, L.E., Stevens, S.E., Sun, L., et al. 2013. Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment Part 5. NESDIS 1425, NOAA Technical Report.
Lessner, R. 2010. How Meriwether Lewis ‘s cutthroat trout sealed Custers fate at the Little Bighorn. American Fly Fisher 36(4) fall 2010 17
McMahon, T.E., and D.H. Bennett. 1996.  Walleye and Northern Pike: Boon or bane to Northwest Fisheries. Fisheries 21(8):6-13.
Monahan, P.  N.D.  Did native Americans invent fly fishing for bass? Midcurrent website.  Accessed July 23, 2019. https://midcurrent.com/history/did-native-americans-invent-fly-fishing-for-bass/d
Monnett, J.H. 1993. Mystery of the Bighorns: Did a fishing trip seal Custer’fate? American Fly Fisher 19(4):2-5.
Mordue, T. 2009. Angling in modernity: A tour through society, nature and embodied passion. Current Issues in Tourism 12(5):529-552.
Owens, K. “While Custer Was Making His Last Stand: George Crook’s 1876 War on Trout in the Bighorn Country,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 52(2):58–61.
Quist, M.C. and W. A. Hubert. 2004. Bioinvasive species and the preservation of cutthroat trout in the western United States: ecological, social, and economic issues. Environmental Science and Policy 7:303-313.
Sloan, S., and J. Prosek. 2003.   Fly Fishing Is Spoken Here: The Most Prominent Anglers in the World Talk Tactics, Strategies, and Attitudes. Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut. 288 pp.
Soos, F. 1999. Bamboo Fly Rod Suite: Reflections on Fishing and the Geography of Grace.  University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.  
Spence, M.D. 1999. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks.  Oxford University Press, New York.   190 pp.  
Stone, Livingston (1897) Artificial Propagation of Salmon on the Pacific Coast of the United States, with Notes on the Natural History of the Quinnat Salmon, Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, vol. 16, 1896, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office 
Pierce, R., W.L. Knotek, C. Podner, and D. Peters.  2019. Blackfoot River restoration: a thirty-year review of a wild trout conservation endeavor.  Pages xxx-xxx in American Fisheries Symposium 91. Accessed  July 20, 2019 from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b4234523c3a53d2db20deb6/t/5cfd2509bb03dd000174a8da/1560094022564/Blackfoot+River+Restoration+-+a+30-year+wild+trout+conservatin+endeavor+6-3-2019.pdf
Wiley, R.W., R.A. Whaley, J.B. Satake, and M. Fowden. 1993. Assessment of stocking hatchery trout: a Wyoming perspective.  North American Journal of Fisheries Management 13:160-170.    
Zackheim, H. 2006. A history of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Fisheries Division, 1901–2005. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Helena. Accessed https://archive.org/details/historyofmontana2005zack

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How Old Do Flathead Catfish Get? by Don Orth

The recent catch of a 62-pound Flathead Catfish from the upper New River was a rarity and generated many questions.  One of these was "how old is this fish?"    Fortunately, I can answer that question, thanks to Timmy Dixon who provided me with the head.  With the help of annual rings laid down on the ear stones (i.e., otoliths) of the catfish, we can determine its age. It's not possible to estimate the age of a Flathead Catfish from it's weight alone.  There is just too much variation in growth rates among individuals.  
Lapillus ear stone from 62 pound Flathead Catfish glued to glass slide.  Lincoln penny for size reference.
 Photo by Cobin Hilling.
Otoliths are calcareous accretions that permit detection of sounds and maintenance of  equilibrium via the semicircular canals. Because the grow continuously as the fish grows and grow faster when the fish is actively growing, annual rings are discernible.   The otoliths of the Flathead Catfish are tiny compared to the size of the fish and can be a challenge to find.  There are three pairs of otoliths -- asterisci, lapilli and sagittae.  To learn how otoliths are removed from large catfish, check out this post.  In this Flathead Catfish, Corbin Hilling extracted the lapillus (above), which is the largest otolith in catfish. 

Otolith section from 62 pound Flathead Catfish.  Photo by Corbin Hilling.
In order to count all the rings, the otolith is sanded until all the rings from the nucleus to the edge can be seen.   In this otolith section, Corbin Hilling counted 25 annual rings. So the Flathead Catfish was born in 1994. The maximum age from populations of Flathead Catfish averages about 20 years and the oldest individual aged was 32 years old (Massie et al. 2018).  

Once Flathead Catfish reach about 30 inches (or ~ 75 cm), they begin to develop massive girth. To reach a 25 pound trophy mark, Flathead Catfish have to survive to at least 7 or 8 years. Once they reach that size, they have must eat a lot to grow larger and are highly vulnerable to hook-and-line or trotline fishing.   The 62 pound Flathead Catfish is clearly off the chart showing weight attained at different ages (below).
Weight of Flathead Catfish by age (years) from the James River from Hilling et al. (in press).
The Flathead Catfish was a rare trophy catch.   It's what I refer to as a BOFFFF, or a big old fat fecund female fish.   Fisheries scientists hypothesize that BOFFFFs are critically important to maintaining a large population for the future because they are experienced breeders and produce more and larger eggs per body mass than smaller females.    The BOFFFF hypothesis has never been scientifically evaluated for exploited catfish populations, so we can't know for sure.   But the 62 pound Flathead Catfish was certainly a fish of a lifetime. 

Flathead Catfish   CC BY 2.0  USFWS 
Hilling, C.D., A.J. Bunch, J.A. Emmel, J.D. Schmitt, and D.J. Orth. In Press.  Growth and mortality of invasive Flathead Catfish in the tidal James River, Virginia.  Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 10(2)
Massie, D.L., G.D. Smith, T.F. Bonvecchio, A.J. Bunch, D.O. Lucchesi, and T. Wagner. 2018. Spatial variability and macro-scale driver of growth for native and introduced Flathead Catfish populations. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 147:554–565.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Student's Digital Stories "On Becoming an Ichthyologist". by Don Orth

In teaching Ichthyology, I ask my students to tell their story using digital video techniques.   This started four years ago and you can read about it at Inside the Head of a Fish Head.    Asking students to tell their story tells them I care about them, their hopes, dreams, and struggles.  One of my students  once wrote: “Imagine a world where everyone treated those around them - and all around the world for that matter - equally and with respect rather than being judgmental.“ I can’t afford to kill this dream. 

“dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”  James Dean

 We can all learn to communicate our message with storytelling.  I share these stories from 2019 with permission of the students.  It's important that we learn to tell stories and not wait until the story is completed.  As I profess to my students, "Life is a Comprehensive Exam" and we have to learn as we go.   From Peter Brown, I've learned to create desirable difficulties in and out of the classroom.   The digital storytelling is the student's creation that reflects their lessons learned. 

Students in Ichthyology pose with the Mahi Mahi Coryphaena hippurus specimen.
Brittany Bailey was raised fishing but it was always a hobby until she took Ichthyology.

A desirable difficulty is a bucket filled with unknown minnow species. 
 Andrew Bartee tells about his encounter with a fisherman in a village near a coral reef in Belize. 
Andrew Bartee is excited over the small Rainbow Darter Etheostoma caeruleum specimen. 
Aaron Betancourt tells about his early love of fish and the fading of a passion as engineering and robotics took up his available time. 

Jack Boyer has been surrounded by water throughout his life.   His fascination with fishing with his father developed a passion.  Today is explores new types of fishing and fish he learned in Ichthyology.

This male Central Stoneroller Campostoma anomalum shows turbercles, which are secondary sexual characteristics.
Richie Garay asked his Dad "take me fishing."  Now Richie wants to go fishing -- all the time.   
Male Bluehead Chub Nocomis leptocephalus guards gravel nest mound.  Photo by Frimpong lab.
Emma Hultin  grew up in Virginia Beach dreaming of becoming a marine biologist.  After doing her undergraduate research on the Bluehead Chub Nocomis leptocephalus and taking Ichthyology, she is on her way to graduate school to study freshwater fishes.

Hanna Moreland learned much from Ichthyology, beyond how to electrofish and seine.  She knows the small details needed to tell the difference between a Notropis telescopis and a Notropis hudsoniusHer curiosity is stronger than ever.

Rainbow Darter Etheostoma caeruleum captured Toms Creek, May 1, 2019.
Ben Olenick learns a trick about how to outsmart the fish.  "Is this even possible?"   First fish of the day and a guide's knowledge inspires Ben to learn more about the Florida Pompano.   Seven years later he enrolled in Ichthyology at Virginia Tech. 

Christian Park tells of his first encounter with a fish  -- "the moment prompted my love for fish, fishing, and the outdoors." His first research experience was with the Coastal Marine Education and Research Academy in Clearwater, Florida.  

 Clare Posey    was an Ocean and Surf Rescue Lifeguard for the resort areas of Virginia Beach when she learns of beach closures due to unhealthy bacteria levels. She reflects on the health of seafood imported from other countries.    

Ichthyology students doing the class shuffle on their way to downstream seine.
Jordan Wheatley is a first-generation student who began her time at Virginia Tech as undecided student.   What to study?  Interior Design or Marine Fish Conservation?   Reflections on exploring shorelines, creeks, boating, softball, and other outdoor activities led Marine Fish Conservation to choose her. 
Madeline, Jordan, and Christian view the unknown specimens in aerated aquarium. 

Pat Wicklein has a new appreciation for fish, beyond their value as game fish. He even appreciates small details of fish such as the number of anal fin rays and tail shape that I had previously overlooked before taking Ichthyology.

Joe Wood reflects on his passion for fishing and opportunities it contributed to his life.  "Fishing is a sport of patience.  It cannot be taught, only learned."

Madeline Wood  transitioned from Animal and Poultry Science and eventual Vet School to Marine Fish Conservation. 

Thanks to students who permitted me to share the stories, hopes, and aspirations publicly. Narratives increase recall, comprehension and interest. It is through storytelling that we make and store meaning. There are more digital stories that are publicly available.  Just go to YouTube. Search for "Becoming an Ichthyologist."  Among the seven aspirations for student learning at Virginia Tech, is Pursue Self-Understanding and Personal Integrity.    You are important and you matter!  Your voice matters! Your feelings matter! Your life matters! Your story matters!

“really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  Mark Twain