Where in the West is Mark Spitzer?

Mark Spitzer loves fish and he loves to fish. As a nationally known author (Seasons of the Gar, Return of the Gar), writing about fish and their issues is what he does best. In this blog series, Spitzer shares his experiences traveling the American West while researching a select number of freshwater fish that are often considered monstrous or freaky or hideously grotesque. Don’t miss the full version of this incredible tale, which can be found in Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, now available!  

Spitzer coho_spawn
Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Most people don’t consider salmon a “grotesque fish,” but when you see an angry red spawning Coho with a demonic gargoyle-face dying to recreate its genes, it’s an unforgettable sight. These denizens of the American West figure into Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, just released by the University of Nebraska Press. Chapter two looks at Kokanee salmon versus invasive burbot in Wyoming and Utah in terms of competition for resources, and chapter eleven focuses on the popular Pikeminnow Rewards Program in the Pacific Northwest, which was designed to protect salmon smolt by placing a living-wage bounty on the heads of what used to be known as squawfish.

But let’s not forget the Great Salmon Crash of 2008-2009 which shut down commercial salmon fishing all along the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, because salmon were vanishing all over the world. And they still are, thanks to habitat loss and overfishing. Take the salmon and steelhead crisis of California’s Central Valley, for example, in which populations dropped from 1,500,000 to 40,000 in just five years—a ninety-seven percent loss! Fortunately, though, western states like Oregon are partnering with Nez Perce tribes to put Coho back into the system a half-a-million at a time.

Spitzer_jacket_alt.inddHence the question: Why not just stock the hell out of all the crashing fisheries? Well, I address that directly in the book through the lens of paddlefish, gar, catfish, razorback suckers, American eels, sturgeon, etc. And stocking, I’m sorry to say, just isn’t enough.

So what’s a poor ecosystem to do? That’s also a question I explore in this timely investigation, which actually provides answers—and not just for fisheries. Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, I’m proud to say, is stocked full of highly studied, workable approaches for dealing with energy production, agricultural needs, carbon dioxide gone wild, the whole globally-warmed enchilada of what our watery world has become. So check out this beautifully grotesque book because it’s hot off the press and ready to get to work!

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