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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
>>           'Extinction'
>>           Related Article
>>           Many Small Events May Add Up to One Mass Extinction (Sept.
>>           Forum
>>           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
>>           interested.
>>           "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
extinct species.
>>           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
in a
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
>>           fish.
>>           "It don't look bad for 30-something years in the freezer,"
Anthony said. "Except for a little freezer
>>           burn."
>>           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
>>           fish."
>>           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
a walleye.
>>           "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
walleye's habitat.
>>           "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."