Where in the West is Mark Spitzer?

Mark Spitzer loves fish and he loves to fish. As a nationally known author (Seasons of the GarReturn 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 Westnow available!  

The recent escape of over 305,000 Atlantic salmon into the Pacific Ocean illustrates the double-edged sword of aquaculture. On one hand, millennia of farming our finny friends has led to highly sustainable ways to provide nutrition for vast masses while protecting wild populations from overfishing. On the other hand, the more non-wild stock we stock, the more potential there is for homogenizing wild genetics with hatchery-raised, feed-fed DNA that weakens endemic populations. In the case of the recent salmon exodus into Puget Sound, the results are catastrophic, especially for the people of the Lummi Nation who’ve been depending on this co-existence for centuries.

In Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, I investigated this controversial issue through a series of different lenses. The invasive species of burbot was examined in Utah and Wyoming as a rogue species that devours prized salmon transplanted from other regions, and there’s also a chapter on bighead and silver carp taking over the Mississippi River system. The book comes as well with a side of snakeheads, along with the question of what to do with native species like northern pikeminnow and razorback suckers which affect sport fisheries.

snakehead (1)

Flayed Snakehead, Bon Appetit! Photo by Mark Spitzer.

In many cases, I’ve been criticized for my lack of alarmism concerning fish from other places coming over here and taking our jobs—oops, I mean “native habitats.” The way I figure it, when you’ve got 7.5 billion people on an orb of water spinning in space and jets streams warming everywhere (which lead to migrations), it’s just impossible to build a wall. Just look at how the electrical grids in the Great Lakes and all our levees and reservoirs have failed to keep the problem at bay.

Humans, of course, are the most wide-ranging invasive species on this planet, basically setting up shop wherever the exploitation of natural resources seems to make economic sense. With that hypocrisy in mind, it’s hard to condemn other species for what we do religiously—so I tend to look at the mergings of our bio-diversities as opportunities for encountering grotesques we might not meet otherwise. More importantly, these are opportunities to satisfy our inner-Ted Nugents by killing and grilling our fears away.

So pick up a copy, grab your pole, and let’s make environmental lemonade!