About An Entirely Synthetic Fish

Suppose that more than a century ago, U.S. government officials became concerned democracy itself was at risk because men seemed to be less virile.  Suppose that to reverse this trend they decided to populate streams, rivers, and lakes with “an entirely ‘synthetic’ fish”—quarry with which Americans could rediscover their abilities to capture and kill animals. And suppose that, up to the present, these creatures were still being produced and distributed on a massive scale, sometimes even being trained like gladiators and pumped full of the same supplements as the best human athletes so that they would provide a better fight.

Such is the true story of the rainbow trout. Sometimes vilified for their devastating effects on the native fauna, sometimes glorified as the preeminent sport fish, the rainbow trout is the repository of more than a century of America's often contradictory philosophies about the natural world. Exhaustively researched and grippingly rendered by award-winning journalist, aquatic ecologist, and lifelong fisherman Anders Halverson, this book chronicles the discovery of rainbow trout, their artificial propagation and distribution, and why they are being eradicated in some waters yet are still the most commonly stocked fish in the United States.

About the Author

Anders Halverson was an award-winning newspaper reporter before he returned to school to get his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University. He now lives in Boulder, Colorado where he writes, teaches, and explores the outside with his wife and three kids. He enjoys speaking with the public about science and conservation; if you'd like to have him talk to your group, please contact him here.

Livingston Stone stands at the back of this small boat, guiding a fishing expedition for rainbow trout. The back of the photo reads "Trout expedition by Livingston Stone + Willard [or M~] Perrin." The photo was probably taken some time on the McCloud some time between 1879 and 1888. It is hard to say what method they were using to catch the fish--nets, rods, and traps were all employed by Stone and his crew.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone.
Boxing was as good a way to pass the time as any on the McCloud. Nothing was written on the back of this photo. It appears to have been taken at the main U.S. Fish Commission. Livingston Stone is visible sitting down in the background and the boxer on the left appears to be Loren Greene, one of Stone's first assistants.The photo is courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone.
Livingston Stone and his assistants had this portrait taken in San Francisco in 1873. Willard Perrin was Stone's nephew. There is some confusion about the identity of the man on the right. Although the front of the photo says it is Loren Greene, the back suggests it may have actually been Loren's brother Myron. The latter seems more likely as other records from the time state that it was Myron who went on the 1873 expedition.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, Stone's granddaughter.
An Attack. The men on the left appear to be Wintu Indians, and the men on the right to be from the U.S. Fish Commission. The subjects would have had to have stood very still for a long time to have produced such a clear picture; the photograph was clearly staged for the benefit of the photographer. However, similar confrontations were a very real phenomenon, especially in the early years of the U.S. Fish Commission's presence on the McCloud. Stone and his crew were threatened several times and other would-b
The crew of the U.S. Fish Commission builds a bridge across the McCloud with the help of a Wintu Indian (right).  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone.
Stone and his crew seem to have enjoyed setting up scenes like this for the photographer. My guess is that they had built a more substantial headquarters building alongside the McCloud by the time this picture was made, but wanted to show the people back home what the early days had been like. To my eye it looks like Myron Greene on the left, Willard Perrin in the middle, and perhaps Stone on the right.  Photo courtesy of Beck McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone.
This drawing of a dam and water wheel was likely sketched by Stone or one of the other U.S. Fish Commission crewmembers on the McCloud. It looks like it might represent the dam and wheel in this photo.  Courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone.
There are no notes on this picture to indicate it's date or location. The dam and water wheel were probably built on the McCloud by the U.S. Fish Commission to catch fish or supply water to the hatchery and rearing ponds.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, Livingston Stone's granddaughter.
This portrait of Livingston Stone was taken some time after 1873 in San Francisco.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone
This portrait of Livingston Stone appears to have been taken before he grew his dundrearies and travelled to California.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone
This portrait of Livingston Stone, his wife Rebecca, and son Ned was taken by Thomas Houseworth, a famous San Francisco photographer. Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone
A picture of some Wintu Indians, the original inhabitants of the McCloud River area. Date unknown.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone
A portrait of the U.S. Fish Commission crew on the McCloud. Livingston Stone is in the back, second from left. Date and photographer unknown.  Photo courtesy of Becky McCue, granddaughter of Livingston Stone
Horsemen cross the McCloud River near the salmon station, probably around 1882.  National Archives 22-FFB-328
A portrait of some Wintu Indians on the McCloud River in 1882.  National Archives FFB-486
A group of Wintu taken about 1882.  National Archives 22-FFB-527
A portrait of a Wintu Indian
The trout breeding station on the McCloud
Two men sitting on a rock by the McCloud River
A view of the McCloud as it probably appeared when Stone and his crew first arrived.  National Archives 22-FFB-518
The site on the McCloud where Stone and his crew spawned salmon and trout for so many years is now hundreds of feet beneath Lake Shasta, at approximately the site where this photo was taken.  Photo by Anders Halverson
Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Citizens were invited to collect rotenoned fish and bring them home for dinner. Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
The rotenone in the Green River turned the water white. Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Poisoned fish near Big Sandy, Wyoming.  Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Green River near Big Piney.  Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Robert R. Miller, Jerry Smith, Jane Davis, and Jack Davis hold up Colorado Pikeminnow killed during the Green River rotenone project in 1962 near Little Hole, Utah.  Courtesy of Jerry Smith, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
The Bridge in Browns Park where the detoxification took place.  W.H. Kittams, National Park Service
A drip station on the Green River.  W.H. Kittams (National Park Service)
Setting up a rotenone drip station in the mouth of flaming gorge in 1962.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center, FWS 4490
The Flaming Gorge Dam as it appeared in August, 1962.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4440
A biologist examines a sentinel cage in the Green River. Carp were placed in cages like these. They were one of the best means available to determine the toxicity of the water from rotenone during the Green River Rehabilitation.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4438
Rotenone drip lines like this were set up every ten miles along the Green River.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4437
Agency personnel set up the detoxification station on the bridge in Browns Park, Colorado. Spreaders like the one in the middle of the picture were used to put potassium permanganate into the Green River.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4434
Citizens like those pictured here were invited to gather the fish that had been killed by the rotenone in the Green River. Agency officials assured them the fish were safe to eat.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4488
Flaming Gorge before the gates on the dam were closed.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4485
Agency personnel set up a rotenone drip station on the Green River 25 miles north of the Utah State Line  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4435
Putting an airboat into the Green River to inspect the ongoing rotenone operation.  Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4436
Photo by Rex Gary Schmidt. Courtesy of National Conservation Training Center. #4489

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