I spotted this little guy in a hatchery supported stream in North Carolina and fished to him until I caught him so I could get a photo.
While not common exactly, deformities like this are not unusual in either hatcheries or in the wild but you seldom see a ‘special’ fish like this in a wild stream. Nature deals with this sort of thing in short order. In a hatchery, however, a fish like this will do fine and grow to maturity.
This brook trout would have been a solid 16 inches if he were normal. A buddy suggested I bank him. There was no need. This kind of deformity stems from injury to the fish’s spine early in life. There are no defective genes or disease to pass along so I released him. After all, he plays an important role in the ecosystem, at least from the otter’s perspective.
There can certainly be problems with hatchery raised fish. Disease and poor genetics can wreak havoc on wild populations. On the whole, I think North Carolina does a good job and it’s important to remember that this is a regional issue that is best evaluated by region. What’s right for a trout stream in North Carolina is not right for a steelhead river in Oregon. That’s another topic worth some considerable ink, but not just now.
It did get me thinking about some more troubling fish deformities. Specifically Idaho’s two-headed trout. There was a little bit of excitement about it when the New York Times published photos, in February of 2012, of the deformed fish which were spawned in a laboratory from fish caught wild in streams surrounding the Simplot Smokey Canyon mine.
The photos were from a report Simplot filed with the government for the purpose of asking the EPA to raise the allowed levels of selenium caused in local streams by phosphate mining. I’m going to repeat that for the sake of clarity.
Simplot raised two-headed trout spawned from wild fish poisoned with selenium run off from their mine, showed the results to the government and said, “see, nothing wrong here, I think we can safely say a dramatic increase in poisoning is in order.”
If this seems surreal to you, you are not alone. What is even more insane is that the EPA seems to be buying it. This made my head hurt so badly that I picked up the phone and started calling friends in Idaho. After talking to several folks who are active in TU and other groups in Idaho, I was referred to some folks with the local fisheries department. The answers I got were, again, surreal. They amounted to this:
“Yeah, it’s pretty bad…it’s getting worse…there’s not really anything we can do about it…Simplot owns Idaho.”
I did a lot of reading about it and had every intention of writing a well-informed, well-articulated, thoroughly documented article on the subject and then decided, “FUCK THAT!” There are plenty of those out there already and I’ll include links to some of them but if you’re not reading them you’re not going to read mine. It would be boring and redundant. So instead, I’m going to offer you ‘my version’. It will be short and to the point, totally undocumented and quite likely inflammatory. I hope you enjoy it.
If you believe in the Devil, I know where you can find him. He lives in Idaho and he’s in the phosphate mining business. He’s hopelessly poisoned the water in a big part of the state. A state where the largest natural aquifers in the world can be found, by the way. A few folks, not enough of them fishermen, are upset about it and are raising a fuss but since they don’t have any money and are not in high positions in the government, like the board of Simplot are, nobody cares.
If Satan were forced to clean up his mess it would cost him a small fraction of the fortune he has stolen from our public lands and he wouldn’t like that so he has called up his gay lover, the government, and asked him to change the facts to accommodate the answer.
“No problem here, two-headed trout should be twice as easy to catch!”
The Prince of Darkness has fired up his spin machine and cranked out a bunch of dissenting opinions. He’s pointed out that the fish in the photos published by the NYT never swam in Idaho rivers. He’s made the case that mutations occur in nature and he’s convinced a lot of people the pollution is good and natural and nothing for us to worry about. The ‘experts’ have it under control.
He’ll get away with it too, and he’ll frack the Hoback and build his pebble mine and poison the air over the Green and fill the gulf with oil and what ever the hell else he pleases as long as we all care more about dollars than fish. These are boom times in hell so quit bitching about the spotted owl, pick up your shovel and get back to work. We’ve got a planet to sell.
So there’s my opinion, for what it’s worth and that’s not much. If you don’t like it, come back tomorrow and you can read about how to catch bonefish or something like that.
If you want a well-articulated, even-tempered, thoroughly documented story about Smokey Canyon, follow some of the links below and decide for yourself. The whole thing has me too worked up and I just have to move on. There are some good stories here by real journalists. None better than the video report from The Daily Show.