Interestingly in the past few weeks I’ve stumbled upon a couple of different discussions about a book that was published in 2010, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World by Anders Halverson. The first discussion was on a very popular fly fishing forum, and as so often is the case on internet forums the thread flew off course and turned sour. By the time the discussion had spawned out I’d forgotten what the intent of it was in the first place. Then a couple weeks later, The Trout Underground posted a review of the book and reeled me back in. I have not yet read the book, but it’s on my list. Actually I was hoping to receive this book as either a Christmas gift, but apparently I was bad this year.
Because I’ve not read the book I can not speak to its essence, but in the meantime I’ve done a bit of reading about the book and listened to a Fish Explorer podcast interview with the author. To ponder the concept of the rainbow trout being introduced so widely to so many waters where it was not native is pretty amazing, and is as mind boggling as the quickness with which we settled the American West (and all the bad stuff that came of that, including the artificial introduction of the rainbow trout). I fully admit that I did not know that the rainbow is native only to a narrow band along the Pacific Rim from Mexico north to the Bering Strait and Kamchatka. Today an angler can undoubtedly catch more rainbows in rivers across America than any other type of trout. In many of these waters, while not native, the rainbows are wild in the sense that they’re self-propagating and thriving. Unfortunately at the cost of some native species, both fish and certain types of frogs.
I think I get it. We as a civilization are at a point where we’re reflecting back with shame for all the bad stuff we’ve done to our world and the environment over the past decades. We’re the “guilt generation” trying to undo what has been done by generations before: there’s a lot of habitat restoration being done in an attempt to help recover fish runs that we as humans have nearly wiped out in many places. Dams are being torn down, rip rap banks being removed so flood waters can reclaim their natural floodplains and provide safe haven for fish during high water, trees are being replanted along riparian zones previously cleared of all vegetation, etc. The list goes on, and it’s good that we’re doing something about it. As part of this attempt to undo what has been done, hatchery fish of all kinds are being given a bad rap because, well, they’re not “wild”, in many cases they’re non-indigenous and frankly by nature’s design they don’t belong. Kinda like the white Europeans when we they landed on the east coast 513 years ago.
But what of the homogenous rainbow trout, specifically? They’ve been around in so many waters for so long that we’ll never get rid of them, and many probably don’t want to. From what I’ve gleaned, this is not the point of An Entirely Synthetic Fish, either. Personally I treat a wild (not the same as native) rainbow or brown trout with the same care in handling as I do a cutthroat or a bull trout. If they’re thriving, for the most part, in most areas where they were introduced, should perhaps we not simply embrace the rainbow for the aerobatic, strong fighting fish they are? It’s not their fault we put them where they never would have been on their own: they had little say in the matter. Yet here they are in lakes and streams and rivers across the country and the world. Can’t we just show them a little love? If these non-native rainbows find out how we really feel about them, they’re likely to become resentful and dour, and may resort to even more hideous means of damaging self indulgence as they seek our acceptance. They may not be the au natural, Birkenstock-wearing native cutthroat or the prestigious eastern brook trout that we love to romanticize about, but completely synthetic? Come on – isn’t that a little much? A little cosmetic surgery never hurt anyone. They just want to be accepted, if not loved.
Heck, even the hybrids are doing it.
My word, what is next—pectoral fin augmentation?
PS- My apologies to Mr. Halverson for the content of this article.