OF FISH AND MEN
A recent trend has become quite widespread in the field of biological science; restoration of "native" species. This has become quite prevalent in the fisheries departments of many states and it is rampant in many federal agencies; especially in the lands under the management of the Interior Department. By poison, electrofishing, gill netting, encouraging anglers to kill certain target species and recently by endeavoring to manipulate the fish's chromosomes they are attempting to eliminate in favor of "native" species. The fish that they are attempting to eradicate have established viable populations which they hope they can replace with viable populations of another species of fish that they have no greater redeeming value than the fish that are labeled "native."
One of the characteristics of the human race that puts us at the head of all other creatures on this planet is our ability to manipulate our environment. The history of mankind is a story of our ability to change deserts into crop lands through irrigation, to introduce both plants and animals into new environments and thus enhance our ability to survive and thrive. In the Western Hemisphere where would we be without the plants and animals that were introduced by the early explorers from Europe? Horses, donkeys, mules, swine, cattle, domestic sheep, domestic goats, chickens, and honey bees are just a few of the animals that did not exist here before the first European explorers came to this part of the globe. With the exception of corn [maize], grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley, were brought to the Western Hemisphere by European explorers and settlers. If man did not introduce these plants and animals to this part of the world I submit that we would be a far different and far inferior society than we are at the present time.
It also should be noted that when the first European explorers came to the Western Hemisphere they did not find a pristine environment. The indigenous inhabitants had already been busy for several centuries changing the environment. It is very likely that these early inhabitants had already eliminated some species and had pushed out of their original habitat.
As we manipulated the environment to advance civilization there were casualties. These introduced animals and plants competed with the native species that utilized the same habitat, often to the determent of the native species. In some cases, as is true with many fish species, mankind's activities adversely affected the habitat of the native species to the extent that they could no longer exist. Brook trout in the eastern United States and fluvial Grayling are classic examples of species that were expatriated from many parts of their natural habitat by mankind's activities. Without the introduction of "non-native" species into those habitats there would be no viable salmonid fisheries in those waters. The introduction of brown trout from Europe was essential in producing a fishery in the wake of the demise of the "native" char [brook trout] that formerly occupied those waters. These fish not only survived but they thrived in the very same waters where the native fish could no longer live due to the changes brought about by mankind's activities.
In the western United States natural barriers prevented fish from accessing many bodies of water and fish, often "non-native" fish, were introduced into those waters to provide a viable fishery. In one stream in Yellowstone National Park the biologist wanted to eradicate the current "non-native" fish and stock it with the original species. When they looked at the historical records they discovered that the only "native" fish found in this stream was a species of sculpin minnow! There were no other species of fish found in this drainage because of a series of impassible waterfalls.
"Non-native" fish such as Eastern brook trout and European brown trout were introduced into many of these waters, as well as rainbow trout from the streams along the coast. Today the world famous trout streams like the Madison, Missouri, Yellowstone, Snake and countless others would likely attract only minor attention if we relied on the original "native" species that were found in those waters.
Since most of the introductions of "non-native" fish occurred in the 19th and early part of the 20th century these "non-native" fish have been established in most of these waters for more than a century. How long does something have to live in an area before it can be considered native? My ancestors came to North America in the late 17th century and settled in what is today New York State. They were here before the United States was the United States, but there were indigenous people ["Native Americans"] that were here before my ancestors came. Historians and anthropologists tell us that the indigenous people that were present in the Western Hemisphere when the first European explorers came here did not "originate" here but came to this part of the globe from human populations in Asia. By this analysis there are no truly "native" people in the Western Hemisphere, we all came from somewhere else. Who then is a native? I consider myself a Native American since members of my family have been in this country for over 300 years.
The preservation of "native species" is a noble cause and in places where viable populations of these fish are found we should make every effort to protect and preserve them. However, to destroy a viable population of fish that have been thriving for decades and providing both recreational enjoyment as well as food for fishing eating creatures is to play the fools game. What we ae endeavoring to do is the reverse of what our predecessors did when they planted these waters with non-native species and we condemn them for doing it but now we are doing it ourselves.
We are spending thousands of dollars and untold man hours of labor attempting to reestablish viable fish populations in various watersheds that already have existing populations of fish. These resources would be better utilized in protecting and enhancing the populations that currently exist rather than attempting to turn back the historical clock.