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NFC: Fw: Fw: a fish story (fwd)
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 17:50:42 -0600
From: robert a rice <robertrice at juno_com>
To: nfc at actwin_com
Subject: Fw: Fw: a fish story
>> March 15, 1999
>> In Angler's Freezer Since '62, Fish May Refute
>> Related Article
>> Many Small Events May Add Up to One Mass Extinction (Sept.
>> Join a Discussion on Science in the News
>> By PAM BELLUCK
>> ONNEAUT, Ohio -- Call it nostalgia. Or sentimentality.
call it an uncanny prescience.
>> Jim Anthony himself is not exactly sure why he kept a
fish in his freezer for 37 years,
>> carefully rewrapping it every so often and making sure that
wife did not let it thaw when she
>> defrosted the freezer.
>> Somehow, Anthony, a 63-year-old barber in this working-class
town on the shores of Lake Erie,
>> had a feeling when he caught the fish, a blue pike, back in
1962, that someday somebody might be
>> "I kept telling my wife it was more valuable as time went on
and that's why we needed to keep it,"
>> Anthony said. "It's hard for me to explain, but that blue
meant a lot to me."
>> All of a sudden, nearly four decades later, Jim Anthony's
pike means a lot to other people, too.
>> It has become the central clue in a compelling scientific
detective story that some scientists are
>> hoping will lead to an extraordinary result: the return of
>> Blue pike, native only to Lake Erie, were once so ubiquitous
there that they spurred a booming
>> commercial fishing industry in the 1930s and 1940s, catering
demand for the mild, meaty taste of
>> the bright blue fish. But in 1975, blue pike were declared
extinct, a casualty, scientists say, of
>> pollution, overfishing and habitat changes.
>> Since then, fishermen have occasionally reported seeing what
looked like blue pike in smaller lakes
>> in Canada and elsewhere. Some Lazarus-like resurrection?
plausible was the theory that
>> during the blue-pike heyday, people transferred small
of fish from Lake Erie to smaller
>> lakes and they never died out.
>> Still, fish biologists generally assumed that those blue
were really a type of walleye, a common
>> fish in Lake Erie, and not the true blue pike. But they
not be sure. They could find no
>> specimens of blue pike preserved in such a way that DNA
be extracted and compared with
>> the DNA of other fish.
>> And they were intrigued.
>> "If we could find and verify the survival of the blue pike,
then we could restock them in Lake Erie,">
>> said Dieter Busch, a fishery biologist who helped spearhead
research as chief of the Lower
>> Great Lakes Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
>> Busch said the blue pike had been sorely missed, both for
environmental reasons (it filled an
>> ecological niche as one of the few Lake Erie fish to spawn
deep water) and for economic reasons
>> (he estimates that blue pike at their previous levels would
more than $150 million to the lake's
>> fishing industry).
>> "The species was such a valuable species," Busch said, "it
worth getting an answer."
>> Research was going slowly. Scientists had blue pike from
museums, but they were preserved in
>> formaldehyde, which makes DNA hard to extract. Scientists
had scales from blue pike used in
>> unrelated earlier studies, but that DNA was disappointing,
>> Fortunately for science, Anthony, while snipping hair,
to customers about "the blue-pike
>> generation." That was the golden age of blue pike, when
Anthony's father sold piles of them from his
>> fish markets in Conneaut (pronounced KAHN-yaht) and
the "fish sandwich without
>> bones." After school, Jim pulled on rubber boots and got
to scaling and cleaning fish.
>> Anthony, a burly, self-effacing man who worked as a
for his father until the blue-pike
>> population started to dwindle in 1957, told his barbershop
customers about the 15-inch blue pike
>> he caught with a simple hook, line and night crawler in
>> Even then, he knew the fish was rare, and he kept it alive
bucket while contacting state wildlife
>> agencies. He offered them the fish but they declined. One
agency suggested he release it into the
>> lake, and he tried, but it was already too weak and died.
>> Anthony's wife, Mary Lynn, accepted the fish-preservation
routine graciously, realizing that it was
>> important to her husband. Sometimes while defrosting the
freezer, she either moved the fish to
>> another freezer or piled frozen foods on top of it.
>> "All my customers knew I had a blue pike in my freezer,"
Anthony said in his white ranch house not
>> far from the great lake. "They thought I was nuts."
>> One day last year a customer brought him a local newspaper
article about scientists trying to
>> determine whether any blue pike still existed. Anthony
one of the scientists, Carol Stepien, an
>> ichthyologist, or fish zoologist, at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland and offered his
>> "It don't look bad for 30-something years in the freezer,"
Anthony said. "Except for a little freezer
>> Dr. Stepien was more concerned with what was inside.
>> As it turned out, "It has great DNA," she said. The research
"would be very difficult without his
>> Dr. Stepien's crew is proceeding systematically, first
to determine whether the original blue
>> pike is in fact a separate species from the walleye. If the
fish are too closely related, then the
>> walleye might have interbred with the last of the blue pike,
making it unlikely that any original blue
>> pike still exist.
>> Dr. Stepien says she will not disclose her conclusion until
scientific conference in May. Busch,
>> however, who now works for the Atlantic States Marine
Commission, is bolder.
>> "We are confident that blue pike are a separate species," he
>> The next step, Busch said, is searching for "suspect blue
in various lakes (so far, there have>
>> been rumors of blue pike in Ontario, Minnesota, Pennsylvania
and Tennessee). Fishermen have sent
>> putative blue pike to Dr. Stepien and to the Fish and
Service, but the DNA of those fish will
>> not be tested until the first phase of the project is
>> Busch even has a fish that someone sent him eight years ago,
which he says has telltale
>> blue-pikeness: a pointy nose, large eyes and smaller size
>> "When I unwrapped it, my stomach jumped," Busch said. "I
seen hundreds of walleye and this
>> was different."
>> If the scientists find living blue pike, they will focus on
ways to reintroduce them to Lake Erie. The
>> lake is cleaner now, but there would have to be an adequate
food supply -- the lake herring that
>> blue pike ate tapered off decades ago and Busch said they
have to restock that, too.
>> All of this is somewhat controversial with some fishery
managers and the fish and wildlife agencies in
>> the states with a border on Lake Erie: Ohio, Pennsylvania
New York. They are concerned that
>> before any fish are reintroduced, there should be solid
not only that the fish are blue pike but
>> that they will not interbreed with walleye or invade the
>> "We would love to have them back, but we want the original
ones, and that's the key," said Roger
>> Knight, supervisor of the Sandusky Fish Research Unit of the
Ohio Division of Wildlife. "You can
>> build false hopes and there may be pressure to stock blue
in Lake Erie, even if we're not sure
>> they are the original blue pike. We're not about to
another strain of walleye into our lakes
>> where our walleye are doing fine."
>> Anthony knows the investigation could take years, but he is
hopeful it will show that the fish of his
>> childhood is still around somewhere.
>> He winces to recall the waning years of the blue pike, when
fish his father's workers caught
>> contained no eggs, or eggs that were deformed.
>> After he caught his blue pike in 1962, the year after his
father died, he tried to conjure up ways to
>> keep the breed from disappearing.
>> "Every time I'd meet a politician, I'd say 'Just get me
permission to set a net and catch some blue
>> pike and try spawning them in holding tanks,"' said Anthony,
who could no longer set nets, because
>> he had given up his commercial fishing license. Later, Lake
Erie commercial fishing was banned for
>> a while because of mercury.
>> "Maybe they didn't think blue pike was really going to die
out," Anthony said, "but I couldn't
>> understand why they weren't doing anything about it."
>> Since he bequeathed his frozen blue pike, Anthony has
Dr. Stepien's lab a couple of times.
>> "It might sound corny, but I had a lot of feeling in that
fish -- it's a part of my life," he said. "Now,
>> they call it the Anthony fish. I like that."