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. The full version of this incredible tale can be in Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (Bison Books, 2017). And this summer the journey will continue with In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (June 2019).
Order and Disorder, Part 2
The phone has been ringing off the hook and the telegrams keep pouring in, the demand to continue encapsulating my summary of the keynote talk for the 2018 Arkansas Philological Association being so high that I must continue on! When last seen, I was recounting the main talking points of my plenary PowerPoint entitled “Order and Disorder in the Grotesque Monster-Fish World of Human Perseverance: The Philology of Consequence.” I was showing slides of monster fish and recounting the order and disorder I had discovered in writing and researching Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West—so let’s pick up where we left off:
(continued from Order and Disorder, Part 1)
- The politics of hand-fishing (or noodling) for jumbo flathead catfish were then discussed in connection with the celebrated Okie Noodling Tournament which I took part in. I hired a celebrity noodling guide, brought a professional photographer along and ended up manhandling eighty-plus pounds of catfish from the lakes and rivers of Oklahoma. What I discovered was that behind the colorful carnival atmosphere at the fairgrounds where the noodlers brought their trophy fish, the truth was that thousands of mongo cats abducted from their nests were not being put back from whence they came, resulting in the unfortunate affirmation that for a species that used to surpass 150 pounds across the continent, there are no hundred-pounders anymore. That’s why I issued a challenge to the noodling community to put back just ten percent of the big ones in game preserves in order to allow this species to once again grow as large as us. My main point being, the more disorder there is in facilitating conditions amenable to reproduction, the less order there is in ecosystems as a whole. It’s just a no-brainer: The more we take out and don’t put back, the more we are extirpating genes predisposed to gigantism as well as ourselves.
- Muskellunge, which is the Anishinaabe (Chippewa) word for “huge, deformed, ugly pike,” are then examined as an example of a highly successful fishery model. In the mid-twentieth century, a phenomenal culture change began to take place in the U.S. with long-term solutions that took decades of proactive work to take effect. State fisheries across the country not only stocked muskies in rivers and lakes, but they stocked the hardiest genetics possible. More regulations plus public campaigns to educate anglers about catch and release enlightened human consciousness, and most anglers who go for these fish now treat this species with respect and let them go as quickly as possible. The result is an explosion in muskie-hunting opportunities from coast to coast with more people experiencing these fish than any time in history. Hence, in the context of this fish, order ultimately beat out disorder—but, of course, there’s always more work to do.
- The recently rebranded northern pikeminnow (previously known as “squawfish”) in the Pacific Northwest was then held as an example of another successful fishery solution. The problem is that these native fish devour mass salmon smolt, which doesn’t help at a time when hydroelectric turbines in dams are taking a taxing toll on salmon along with habitat loss, deforestation, poaching, and overfishing populations that migrate across multiple borders with differing commercial regulations. Luckily, though, the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho teamed up with local utilities to create a sports reward program that pays northern pikeminnow bounty hunters a living wage for going fishing. Not only that, there’s a team of professional pikeminnow anglers who target this fish from the dams and take out even more. This fishing pressure has been successful in bringing salmon numbers up, but as order reestablishes itself, disorder is also at work in the form of ever-increasing sea lion aggression.
- The conclusion of Beautifully Grotesque then figures in in terms of the hugest fish I ever caught (an eight-foot-one, 250-pound white sturgeon) with my now-wife (which is another story of order arising from disorder). Basically, the overall investigation just ended up leading me in the right direction. First of all, two years after the 2013 Mayflower Oil Spill in Lake Conway, I caught sample fish from the contamination site and had them tested for carcinogenic mutagens. I could reveal what the results were here, but that would spoil the end of the book—so pick up a copy today and find out for yourself!
Secondly, I hooked exactly what I needed to wrap up the narrative: a list of highly practical solutions to environmental disorders previously proposed by other writers. This list included ideas such as fertilizing the Antarctic with algae growths that absorb sunlight and CO2, applying our knowledge of how to produce a greener gasoline by growing algae in mega-vats, the “monochrome Earth method” in which the idea is to paint roads and roofs white in order to reflect sunlight back into space, genetically engineering crops to be paler in order to absorb less sunlight, installing roof tiles that turn color according to weather, blasting zillions of tiny mirrors into space to form sunshades, engineering artificial volcanoes that spew sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere in order to cut down on solar warming, tapping into geothermal power, mariculture possibilities for farming kelp and seaweed vertically in the oceans which can feed the entire world and produce enough biofuel to phase out oil in the United States, and my favorite solution, straight from Al Gore’s 2009 address to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which he cited research from Scientific American documenting how we can supply 100 percent of the U.S.’s electrical needs by installing a thousand square miles of solar panels in the desert Southwest.
(to be continued… so stay tuned to see shocking revelations about climate change along with the ultimate solution for saving our planet and ourselves!)