Trout Deformities

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Timmy!!! Photo by Louis Cahill

Timmy!!! Photo by Louis Cahill

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.

Conservation is all of our jobs. Get excited, get involved.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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36 thoughts on “Trout Deformities

  1. Interesting. I’ve seen defmormities only twice, both small brook trout. They both appeared to have spinal injuries that inhibited their normal swimming motion, but they were able to survive, obviously. Both were caught on wild streams as well.
    As for the Smokey Canyon situation…..good grief. There’s always going to be someone out to make a buck, and will trample on whatever is in their way. Whether it’s the fish in our streams, the wildlife in our forests, or even our own population…..these clowns are willing to lie, cheat and steal their way to the “top”. They take every chance to manipulate reports, studies, and people in order to make their evil doings look like puppy dogs and butterflies. I feel sorry for these fucktards, for they will never be able truly enjoy anything in life because all they do is destroy what is around them. I did enjoy the Daily report’s version. Nice informative post Louis.

  2. Louis,
    Selenium is not just a hot issue in Idaho , here in WV the legislature is in the process of gutting our selenium standard as well. The House of Delegates passed a bill, written by the Coal lobby, 99-0 that would replace the current measurable standard to one that would essentially allow selenium pollution up to the point at which fish in the stream in question die off. And since there is little base line data how do we legally determine that fish were actually ever present ? The state Senate has also moved the bill through committee and the Gov. wants to sign it. The Coal industry is claiming that treating for selenium is too expensive , yet they are very profitable. The Coal lobby has convinced the public and politicians that more selenium = more jobs. Appearently no one has noticed that jobs in the southern WV coalfields have declined in direct correlation to the increase in MTR.
    the struggle continues

    • Thanks for bringing that up Robert! Environmentally speaking, some of the stuff that goes on in West Virginia is heartbreaking for humans and fish. The coal industry is certainly a great evil.

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  4. I caught a 19″ bow with the same type of spine deformity. I thought seriously about cooking him up (it was legal) but figured I should probably do more research. I checked in with the local shop and apparently this fish has been doing quite fine for at least a few months.

      • Haha! It was called a gollum rugby ball (football) by a friend!

        The Kenyan coast is tropical. Inland is temperate. The ‘long rains’ during the rainy season from April to June and are typically afternoon thunder storms. But it’s quite a warm country in general – being on the equator helps. The highlands do get chilly at night and this is what keeps the trout happy.

  5. Only 2 criticisms:
    1) The referral to the government as a “gay” lover – this might be the inflammatory bit 😉
    2) “pleases as long as we all care more about dollars than fish” its not just about fish, its about the whole delicate ecosystem that is potentiallt F’ed up by the selfish actions of these thieves.

    Great post – rants rule

    • You’re right about the gay lover comment. I have no problem with gay men or women and I shouldn’t have implied any connection with the government. I apologize if anyone took that the wrong way. What I was driving at was the nature of the submissive role the government plays in this relationship. I guess it’s actually us taxpayers who are taking it from behind. That might be just as offensive but hopefully you get my point. The only folks I mean to offend are Simplot and those corrupt government bastards who are in bed with them.

  6. Only 2 criticisms:
    1) The referral to the government as a “gay” lover – this might be the inflammatory bit 😉
    2) “pleases as long as we all care more about dollars than fish” – It’s not just about fish, it’s about the whole delicate ecosystem that is potentially F’ed up by the selfish actions of these thieves.

    Great post – rants rule

  7. NC stocks their rivers with triploid fish.
    Which means they are steril.
    So if there is any co-mingling…. Then the fish are only sport friggin!
    NC also has a selenium problem, but I understand its concentrations are in the hydroelectric lakes we have throughout our state. I would not consume mass quantities of these fish exposed to selenium. Selenium is highly toxic and fatal if swallowed or inhaled! Thanks to G&G for helping build awareness!

    • North Carolina has one of the best trout management programs in the country. I did not realize that the brook trout they stock are also triploid fish. I spoke to Bob Currey with the NC department of inland fisheries and he confirmed that to be true. My hat is off to NC. They get it right!

  8. Short to the point and inflammatory articles should be the way to address an issue such as this, seems it’s the only way to get through to some thick headed ignorant profit hungry people that don’t have any consideration for the impact of their decisions and actions. The down fall on the other hand is society dictates that such a rant on any subject could only come from an uneducated uninformed person and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously.

  9. All,
    I am glad to see the interest that this issue has generated.Ranting is the easy part , now comes the hard part- taking action. Each of us must take the time to write and call our respective state delegates and state senators. Tell them how you feel about water quality issues and remind them that you vote and will base your vote on this issue. If you live close to your state capitol make an appointment and visit your representative. As a rule politicians are happy to meet with constituents even if you disagree. Consider arranging a car pool trip of several like minded anglers/ paddlers and boaters.
    We must also make the effort to contact our Federal representatives and senators as well. One of the things that I have learned from doing “citizen lobbying” is that politicians rank contact in ascending order- email , phone call , written letter(not a form letter) and greatest impact , the in-person visit. Do what you can as any contact is better than indifference.

  10. I find your dedication to catching this fish more respectful and story telling than the actual catch. It shows the payoffs for hard work, something that a lot of this country has lost.

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