The Quest for the Golden Trout by Thompson is a book made me reconsider what a natural river is.
Brief summary of The Quest for the Golden Trout
This book looks with a critical view at the state of rivers in the U.S. and questions the historical and current processes at stake. In particular, Douglas M. Thompson is interested in the current practices in fisheries and river management and delineates from a historical perspective how the rivers nowadays came to be. The story follows the author’s journey how he became an environmentalist and advocate of rivers. The main argument is that the driving force behind restoration of rivers, was and still is the urge to enhance the environment to create better fishing for trout. This causes detrimental effects on native species, the environment of rivers and in the end – on us. He shows the intricate web surrounding the management of rivers. At the same time he uncovers unsound methods of conservation and restoration imposed on North American rivers and streams leading to the current state.
An intricate Web
I liked how Thompson objectively described his journey to various rivers and his observations. Furthermore, he interweaved these observations with political tendencies reaching far back to the nineteenth century. At this time, high-society fishing clubs advocated private rivers for their upper-class members. The wish to enhance the fishery for trout, clearly became visible as a driving force and even lead to the farming of Golden Trout. It seems as if the desire to catch this species has led to a decrease in appreciation for other species. It was at this time that many waterways had been corrected and put into a tight corset.
Fish farms seemed to be the obvious choice to increase the numbers of fish and subsequently the fishing. Yet, it has been shown time and time again that river systems are more intricate. A simple “more fish, more catch” philosophy does not do justice. Often stocking of fish decreased both the quality (genetically) and quantity of fish.
“The reared fish themselves will be transported many miles to waiting anglers who then, collectively, drive thousands of miles to catch trout. In the end, some trout probably require more pounds of petroleum to reach anglers’ homes than pounds of food to grow.” (Thompson 2013: 134)
Thompson then argues that many current renaturalization projects in the U.S., are still based on outdated concepts. They are only covered in a natural finish. Moreover, he criticises that revitalization projects are not sufficiently monitored to see whether the investments produced the results expected. I realized that similar static and unnatural revitalizations take place here in Switzerland. For instance, I remembered the tree trunk buried upside down in the river so that the roots point toward the sky. Clearly, this helps to mitigate strong currents and provide valuable space for manifold animals. Still, it is a sight which is by no means natural.
A major drawback of the book is that there is no solution given to the environmental crisis that the rivers in North America experience. There is only the suggestion to save the last remaining wild rivers with intact dynamic riverbanks should be saved. However, I doubt that this is enough.
This book is no pleasant reading for anglers, owing to the fact that we are a strong actor in this drama. Reading the pages leaves a bittersweet taste and I could not stop wondering, how this looks in Switzerland. Nonetheless, there were many interesting information, I was not aware of and I can highly recommend this book to anyone who can cope with a critical view on their beloved hobby.
Thompson, Douglas M.: The Quest for the Golden Trout. Environmental Loss and America’s Iconic Fish. Hanover 2013.