Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thursday (Wed) Review: Anders Halverson's An Entirely Synthetic Fish

Sam Snyder over at the great new Headwaters of History blog has penned a guest review of the new book by Anders Halverson. I thank Sam for allowing us to reprint the review here, as this is a whaling good book and he's far better qualified to review it than I am. Here it is:

Review: Anders Halverson. An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Over Ran the World (Yale University Press, 2010).

By Samuel Snyder, John Daniels Fellow, National Sporting Library,

Many fly fishers cut their teeth on rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Therefore, to read a new history of that fish is both intriguing and unnerving, particularly when the author calls those fish “entirely synthetic.” But Anders Halverson’s An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World (Yale University Press, 2010), is hardly a criticism of the fish or the people who love to fish for them. Instead, it is a tale of how well intended programs have gone utterly wrong, putting the treasures of trout anglers at risk, while simultaneously spreading the joy of trout fishing around the globe.

The story of the rainbow trout is one of tinkering, and along the way we lost some of the parts. It begins in 1872 on California’s McCloud River, where Spencer Baird, Livingston Stone and the fledgling United States Fish Commission sought to restore America’s dwindling fish stocks, as well as American cultural virility, through the new science of fish culture. What started in the American West quickly became a global enterprise.

The native home of the rainbow spans the Pacific Rim, from Kamchatka to Mexico. Yet, through the waves of aesthetics, politics, and sporting organizations rainbow trout now swim on every continent, save Antarctica. In exploring that journey, Halverson tells a tale that is as much environmental history as it is American political history. We learn as much about key players like Stone as we do the fish itself, and how it was been steered by cultural values and financial gain, angler preferences and ecological manipulation. As an ecologist Halverson researched an engaging story filled with depth and critical insight and told with the deft skill of an accomplished journalist.

Throughout the history of fish and fishing, angling authors have compiled an unprecedented collection of literature. Halverson adds a refreshing and crucial perspective to that history. If you are interested in fishing history, fish biology, or political history this is a must read.

-- Dr. Todd

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