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Is it Smart Policy to Kill One Fish to Save Another?

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October 03, 2013

Is it Smart Policy to Kill One Fish to Save Another?

By Kirk Deeter

In many parts of the country, anglers and wildlife management agencies are wrestling with the issue of saving native fish, or wild fish, or certain sportfish species. And in some of those situations, the threat to the "desired" species is often another species. And the answer, in many cases, is to kill off one type of fish to protect the other.

It's a tricky situation, because in most of those scenarios, human manipulation of the ecosystem — often with good original intent — is the reason the problem exists in the first place. In Colorado, for example, pike were introduced, and we now have some of the best pike fishing in North America. Problem (for some) is that those pike just love to eat trout. So in some places, there are now mandatory kill regulations — catch a pike and you are duty-bound to kill it. For certain invasive species, like snakeheads or Asian carp, that's not so much of a dilemma. Asian carp in the Great Lakes is a nightmare scenario that could devastate that fishery. Of course, that fishery depends on Pacific salmon and steelhead, which weren't in the Great Lakes at all until people put them there over 40 years ago.

The native trout in the Great Lakes is the Mackinaw, or lake trout. But years ago, when the lakes were severely impacted by industrial pollution and other factors, a number of lakers were transported and planted into deep, clean lakes out West. Now that's a problem in Yellowstone Lake, for example, where scientists believe the lake trout have decimated the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout population, and still threaten that species' very survival. Some would argue that the lakers are only one culprit among many, including whirling disease, predatory birds, and so forth. But now there's a massive undertaking to net and kill lake trout in order to protect the cutts.

People once thought it was a good idea to put brook trout in mountain lakes and streams out West. And in terms of creating an abundant, sustainable food source, it was. The brookies thrived, but at the expense of native cutthroats. Brown trout aren't native to anywhere in America, but we sure love them. And rainbows wouldn't live in places like Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and Hawaii if we didn't put them there. Many anglers are darn glad that we did.

So the question becomes, at what point do we accept "what is" now, and how hard should we try to make some order out of the genetic "pick-up sticks" that have been scattered all over the country's lakes and rivers over the past century and a half? Can we even untangle the situation at all, or is that just folly? We made our beds, so to speak, so now we have to lie in them... or do we?

I'm a romantic when it comes to fishing. And there is nothing more special to me than catching native fish in their native water. That trumps size. That trumps quantity. One native in a native place makes for the best fishing day I can imagine.

I'd gladly trade all the little brook trout in the stream by my house for a handful of greenback cutthroats. If that means poisoning the water and killing all the brookies to establish a new base in which to reintroduce natives, so be it. (You can't mess around if you're going to make real change; the invaders or introduced fish must be eliminated.) In the case of the lake trout, I sure wish there were more in the Great Lakes. And I know they're fun to catch. But I support efforts to get them out of places where scientists tell me (and I believe the scientists) that they threaten the native cutthroats. So kill 'em. Kill 'em all.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest taking all non-native trout out of non-native waters. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. I can live with that. But I do think we need to do our very best to leave native fish in native waters for future generations. And sometimes drastic steps call for drastic measures.

But that's just my two cents. What do you say?

Comments (22)

Top Rated
All Comments
from tkbone wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

I like catching trout, smallmouth, and stripers in my completely artificial local tailwater of a big lake and would certainly vote against nuking them in favor of the original fish (many of which are still around anyway). Hoping someone will throw in a few golden dorado and taimen so I can complete the bucket list locally.

In all seriousness, I am in favor of eliminating competition and reintroducing native species where the landscape has not been permanently altered to favor the non-natives.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

Nope, not unless it is one of those ugly carp!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

The best Pike fisheries in Colorado are also pumping out the best trout, I wonder why those facts are never presented when they start talking about trying to eliminate the predators.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

I agree that catching native fish in native water is a special thrill but let's face it, we are in a vast minority. The wheels of conservation are turned and funded by the monies received by the average hook-n-worm fisherman and they want to catch multiple species. Maybe they'll set aside a few waters for us purist.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

Dangle, It's that time of year carp are actively chasing...it's a good time to give it a try.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Micropterus24 wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I'm not a huge fan of poisoning the water to start over again, I wouldn't feel so special catching a "native" knowing the whole river or lake was poisoned so one species could thrive again. That doesn't seem too natural to me, although I guess I understand it as a last resort.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from NorthernArcher7890 wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Are the species in trouble like cutts? Or a little more rare like Lakers? Personally, I don't like rainbows in my brookie streams but to each his own.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Buck..Thanks for the tip. Now how do you make your doughballs, or is that a personal secret?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Dangle, If you read Deeter's book about fly fishing for carp you would know all this already and not be forced to ask silly questions. In the book Deeter says that even scented flies would NOT be worthy for a carp and anyone who would put scent on his fly would be banished, forever, to the city of Detroit.

Not being a big fan of Detroit, I stay away from doughballs and even scented flies. (which by the way from my experience are no added benefit)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kirkdeeter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I do use Buckeyes on carp now and then.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I am also hypocritical on this subject. On one hand I love to fish little streams with no names in search of native or "wild" brookies. I love it. To me, catching an 8" brookie that has never seen a fisherman on a stream most fisherman don't know exists is great I'll take that over any size stocked fish any day. But on the other hand I love to fish places like PA's Spring creek or Fishing creek that have thriving populations of big fun to catch brown trout when they should have thriving populations of brookies and that's it. I guess when it comes to the survival of a species, eliminate the problem. But also with that said native brook trout waters are thinning very very fast these days in PA And with the natural gas boom here, the new invasive species is oil & gas guys from Colorado, Texas, and Utah and I say they need to go as well!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Buck...In that case A-hia anglers have a di-stinked advantage over out of staters when it comes to carp fishing in A-hia. Ahia-hooligans go for weeks without a shower, especially in the drought season, and just tying on a fly is a putrid experience. Did Deeter write about that fact in his book? And Deeter's book was featured in the latest Flyfisherman Mag.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Dangle, It's bow season, every man in Ahia is showering in scent free soap every morning.

I would imagine there would be quite an uproar among many fisherman in Ohio if the carp was eradicated from the waters. Lots of doughballers on the banks.

+1 Deeter. That was a pretty good one.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from omarfishesalot wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

kill all of them. as a rough fishermen/species hunting fishermen I am 100% for native species. we have introduced rainbow trout west of the rocky mountains at the expense of many redhorse and sucker species. smallmouth bass, channel catfish and yellow perch have the blood of southwestern endemics on their fins. this is only a tiny amount of what they have done here there is much more to be fixed in the states. That on top of the damage fish such as rainbows trout and largemouth bass have done overseas. And ignorant bums known as walleye fishermen, gar aren't going to hurt your wet sock idiot fish in any way shape or form and this is backed up by true science. and also idiots known as bowfshermen buffaloes and carp are different species and buffaloes are natives that DONT muddy up the water. And ignorant hillbillies known as bass fishermen, bowfin and snakeheads are not the same and if you cant tell the difference between the two don't even pick up a fishing pole. By the way snakehead and bowfin cant walk for miles out of the water, they can only air breath. sorry for the essay this subject was just perfect to vent about this.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Jager wrote 28 weeks 23 hours ago

I would love to catch native fish in native waters, but we must stop playing with the natural order of things.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 23 hours ago

Michael...lots of playing around that has created great fisheries for anglers! What we have to stop doing is then coming up with the notion that the fish we decided to establish that created such a great fishery we have to now eliminate because they are not native, and threaten something that is! There are far too many environmental whack jobs out there, and many of them do not fish, or hunt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nyflyangler wrote 28 weeks 10 hours ago

I'm generally in favor of native fish. But I also agree with tkbone's sentiments. It would be great if we could find one or two rivers here were taimen could be introduced. Somewhere that's a closed system with no danger of unintended consequences.

The big problem is when the introduced species overwhelms native ones like the introduction of rainbows, brookies and lakers into cutthroat territories. There was no need for them to be introduced them. It was done just because we could.

Brown trout's introduction have been a good fit here in many cases. It makes me wonder why they weren't here to begin with as we have the 'other' salmo, Atlantic Salmon.

I'm okay with the killing of an invasive species if there's credible evidence that it will result in the return of a native one. I'm also okay with the introduction of a non-native somewhere if there's no way a native will return.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 7 hours ago

The cutthroat is a WIMP! He gets run off by any other species in the system! Give him some protection, but it is way, way overdone, and the liberal wackjobs threaten to close down a great sportfishing system as a result...like the SF of the Snake! I let every rainbow go I catch in the system, and they put a bounty on the rainbow, and want them killed. What it becomes is a work project for govt employees year, after year, after year. And watch the video of the big outfitter fishing the SF...Natural Retreats. They are established, and a high end Corporation located back East as well as at the head of the SF Canyon. They let the rainbow go as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carl Huber wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

Honey Bee's, Apples and Pheasants are among nonnative invasive species. I believe the real benchmark is how good they taste and how fast do they reproduce.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark Harrington wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

You can not unscramble an egg. Killing all the fish in the streams to then reintroduce hatchlings from a breeding pond doesn't make it the native fish population. In fact, they will have killed all the remaining native fish along with the introduced species. What you will have done is simply another human intervention for very little gain.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

Salmon were introduced to Great Lakes to control another artificial pest, baitfish that arrived via the St Lawrence Seaway. Lake trout couldn't do the job because we couldn't lay off commercial fishing them (drive through Northern Wisconsin and note the relic fish canneries). It was my understanding that the lake trout problem in Yellowstone was caused by "bucket biologists" dumping them clandestinely into the system. Same way pike have overrun much of the good waters in Pacific Northwest. Lake trout and kokanee were introduced into the Flathead River system in Montana in the 1930s. They coexisted well with the native cutthroat trout ... until the Fish & Game introduced mices shrimp sometime in the late seventies. They were attempting to build a trophy cutthroat trout fishery that never existed naturally. The result was that two trophy fisheries - lake trout and bull trout - were ruined. The monster lakers in Flathead lake have all but disappeared and been replaced by hoards of snake lakers about two feet long and four inches deep. They are now up the tributaries all the way into Canada! Kokanee have all but disappeared due to competition with shrimp for plankton. The saddest story is the disappearance of bull trout. When I was a kid I could occasionally catch a bull in the ten pound range. That was quite a battle in a swift river! I once saw one hauled out that weighed 22 lbs and saw them bigger but it was impossible to get them in. All gone now! Anglers came from all over the world every year to throw the giant locally made "bull trout plugs" into the river. And every fall tons of people filled their gunny sacks with tons of snagged salmon that seemed to fill the river from side to side. No more and never again. And how has the cutthroat trout fared through all this experimentation. Actually, as far as I can see it is probably holding its own but just barely. The daily limit on lakers is, I believe, thirty but I doubt any game warden would count them! A mandatory kill-it-if-you-catch-it regulation is desperately needed! I almost want to hit people on the head with their own fish whacker when I see them release the damned things! And whoever said lakers fight hard? C'mon! Compared to what, a snagged log? They fight like crap and usually don't taste much better either. And they are butt ugly to boot. It is beyond me why anyone would have ever wanted to expand the lake trout's horizons! They are the trash fish of the salmonidae family

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from VJPaczek74 wrote 27 weeks 3 days ago

We are a non-native.

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Post a Comment

from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

I agree that catching native fish in native water is a special thrill but let's face it, we are in a vast minority. The wheels of conservation are turned and funded by the monies received by the average hook-n-worm fisherman and they want to catch multiple species. Maybe they'll set aside a few waters for us purist.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from tkbone wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

I like catching trout, smallmouth, and stripers in my completely artificial local tailwater of a big lake and would certainly vote against nuking them in favor of the original fish (many of which are still around anyway). Hoping someone will throw in a few golden dorado and taimen so I can complete the bucket list locally.

In all seriousness, I am in favor of eliminating competition and reintroducing native species where the landscape has not been permanently altered to favor the non-natives.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

Nope, not unless it is one of those ugly carp!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

Dangle, It's that time of year carp are actively chasing...it's a good time to give it a try.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from NorthernArcher7890 wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Are the species in trouble like cutts? Or a little more rare like Lakers? Personally, I don't like rainbows in my brookie streams but to each his own.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from kirkdeeter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I do use Buckeyes on carp now and then.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I am also hypocritical on this subject. On one hand I love to fish little streams with no names in search of native or "wild" brookies. I love it. To me, catching an 8" brookie that has never seen a fisherman on a stream most fisherman don't know exists is great I'll take that over any size stocked fish any day. But on the other hand I love to fish places like PA's Spring creek or Fishing creek that have thriving populations of big fun to catch brown trout when they should have thriving populations of brookies and that's it. I guess when it comes to the survival of a species, eliminate the problem. But also with that said native brook trout waters are thinning very very fast these days in PA And with the natural gas boom here, the new invasive species is oil & gas guys from Colorado, Texas, and Utah and I say they need to go as well!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from omarfishesalot wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

kill all of them. as a rough fishermen/species hunting fishermen I am 100% for native species. we have introduced rainbow trout west of the rocky mountains at the expense of many redhorse and sucker species. smallmouth bass, channel catfish and yellow perch have the blood of southwestern endemics on their fins. this is only a tiny amount of what they have done here there is much more to be fixed in the states. That on top of the damage fish such as rainbows trout and largemouth bass have done overseas. And ignorant bums known as walleye fishermen, gar aren't going to hurt your wet sock idiot fish in any way shape or form and this is backed up by true science. and also idiots known as bowfshermen buffaloes and carp are different species and buffaloes are natives that DONT muddy up the water. And ignorant hillbillies known as bass fishermen, bowfin and snakeheads are not the same and if you cant tell the difference between the two don't even pick up a fishing pole. By the way snakehead and bowfin cant walk for miles out of the water, they can only air breath. sorry for the essay this subject was just perfect to vent about this.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 28 weeks 2 days ago

The best Pike fisheries in Colorado are also pumping out the best trout, I wonder why those facts are never presented when they start talking about trying to eliminate the predators.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Micropterus24 wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

I'm not a huge fan of poisoning the water to start over again, I wouldn't feel so special catching a "native" knowing the whole river or lake was poisoned so one species could thrive again. That doesn't seem too natural to me, although I guess I understand it as a last resort.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Buck..Thanks for the tip. Now how do you make your doughballs, or is that a personal secret?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Dangle, If you read Deeter's book about fly fishing for carp you would know all this already and not be forced to ask silly questions. In the book Deeter says that even scented flies would NOT be worthy for a carp and anyone who would put scent on his fly would be banished, forever, to the city of Detroit.

Not being a big fan of Detroit, I stay away from doughballs and even scented flies. (which by the way from my experience are no added benefit)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Buck...In that case A-hia anglers have a di-stinked advantage over out of staters when it comes to carp fishing in A-hia. Ahia-hooligans go for weeks without a shower, especially in the drought season, and just tying on a fly is a putrid experience. Did Deeter write about that fact in his book? And Deeter's book was featured in the latest Flyfisherman Mag.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 28 weeks 1 day ago

Dangle, It's bow season, every man in Ahia is showering in scent free soap every morning.

I would imagine there would be quite an uproar among many fisherman in Ohio if the carp was eradicated from the waters. Lots of doughballers on the banks.

+1 Deeter. That was a pretty good one.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michael Jager wrote 28 weeks 23 hours ago

I would love to catch native fish in native waters, but we must stop playing with the natural order of things.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 23 hours ago

Michael...lots of playing around that has created great fisheries for anglers! What we have to stop doing is then coming up with the notion that the fish we decided to establish that created such a great fishery we have to now eliminate because they are not native, and threaten something that is! There are far too many environmental whack jobs out there, and many of them do not fish, or hunt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nyflyangler wrote 28 weeks 10 hours ago

I'm generally in favor of native fish. But I also agree with tkbone's sentiments. It would be great if we could find one or two rivers here were taimen could be introduced. Somewhere that's a closed system with no danger of unintended consequences.

The big problem is when the introduced species overwhelms native ones like the introduction of rainbows, brookies and lakers into cutthroat territories. There was no need for them to be introduced them. It was done just because we could.

Brown trout's introduction have been a good fit here in many cases. It makes me wonder why they weren't here to begin with as we have the 'other' salmo, Atlantic Salmon.

I'm okay with the killing of an invasive species if there's credible evidence that it will result in the return of a native one. I'm also okay with the introduction of a non-native somewhere if there's no way a native will return.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 28 weeks 7 hours ago

The cutthroat is a WIMP! He gets run off by any other species in the system! Give him some protection, but it is way, way overdone, and the liberal wackjobs threaten to close down a great sportfishing system as a result...like the SF of the Snake! I let every rainbow go I catch in the system, and they put a bounty on the rainbow, and want them killed. What it becomes is a work project for govt employees year, after year, after year. And watch the video of the big outfitter fishing the SF...Natural Retreats. They are established, and a high end Corporation located back East as well as at the head of the SF Canyon. They let the rainbow go as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carl Huber wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

Honey Bee's, Apples and Pheasants are among nonnative invasive species. I believe the real benchmark is how good they taste and how fast do they reproduce.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark Harrington wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

You can not unscramble an egg. Killing all the fish in the streams to then reintroduce hatchlings from a breeding pond doesn't make it the native fish population. In fact, they will have killed all the remaining native fish along with the introduced species. What you will have done is simply another human intervention for very little gain.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 27 weeks 4 days ago

Salmon were introduced to Great Lakes to control another artificial pest, baitfish that arrived via the St Lawrence Seaway. Lake trout couldn't do the job because we couldn't lay off commercial fishing them (drive through Northern Wisconsin and note the relic fish canneries). It was my understanding that the lake trout problem in Yellowstone was caused by "bucket biologists" dumping them clandestinely into the system. Same way pike have overrun much of the good waters in Pacific Northwest. Lake trout and kokanee were introduced into the Flathead River system in Montana in the 1930s. They coexisted well with the native cutthroat trout ... until the Fish & Game introduced mices shrimp sometime in the late seventies. They were attempting to build a trophy cutthroat trout fishery that never existed naturally. The result was that two trophy fisheries - lake trout and bull trout - were ruined. The monster lakers in Flathead lake have all but disappeared and been replaced by hoards of snake lakers about two feet long and four inches deep. They are now up the tributaries all the way into Canada! Kokanee have all but disappeared due to competition with shrimp for plankton. The saddest story is the disappearance of bull trout. When I was a kid I could occasionally catch a bull in the ten pound range. That was quite a battle in a swift river! I once saw one hauled out that weighed 22 lbs and saw them bigger but it was impossible to get them in. All gone now! Anglers came from all over the world every year to throw the giant locally made "bull trout plugs" into the river. And every fall tons of people filled their gunny sacks with tons of snagged salmon that seemed to fill the river from side to side. No more and never again. And how has the cutthroat trout fared through all this experimentation. Actually, as far as I can see it is probably holding its own but just barely. The daily limit on lakers is, I believe, thirty but I doubt any game warden would count them! A mandatory kill-it-if-you-catch-it regulation is desperately needed! I almost want to hit people on the head with their own fish whacker when I see them release the damned things! And whoever said lakers fight hard? C'mon! Compared to what, a snagged log? They fight like crap and usually don't taste much better either. And they are butt ugly to boot. It is beyond me why anyone would have ever wanted to expand the lake trout's horizons! They are the trash fish of the salmonidae family

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from VJPaczek74 wrote 27 weeks 3 days ago

We are a non-native.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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