The trout’s part in our downfall

Humanity has been interfering with the natural environment from the moment it formed civilisations capable of making big changes. Movement of animal species, for food or fun or even unintentionally, is one action that has frequently brought more problems than benefits, problems often unanticipated or just ignored. Anglers have joined in this with enthusiasm: new species have ended up in UK rivers and lakes, or native species have been moved into waters where they had not existed. And the trout has been widely exported to far-away countries like New Zealand and Argentina, where now globe trotters in waders take holidays to catch these spotted interlopers.

I’ve written before about the dual personality of the Wild Trout Trust. On the one hand the WTT wants to conserve wild trout and the habitats that support it. On the other, tales of trout abroad appear in the annual journal Salmo Trutta. In the 2021 issue there are two pieces about introduced trout overseas, though in fairness these are about science not holidays. One article covers the brown trout introduced to the Kerguelen or Desolation Islands, a small volcanic land in the sub-Antarctic. These are probably the southernmost trout in the world. Fortunately this is one place no recreational angler is ever likely to visit because it is a French research station which only scientists may visit. France wishes to keep the islands a pristine environment, though this ambition seems a little late as it already has a non-native species, to wit the brown trout.

The other article on stocking in foreign parts is by Chris Harrod, a fish biologist who works on Project INVASAL, which sounds like an unpleasant medical procedure with an endoscope. This study is looking at the impact of introduced species, primarily the rainbow trout and chinook salmon, on native fish in Chile. Needless to say, things are not good for the local fish. Big fish eat small fish, and rainbows and chinooks grow very big. Naturally anglers from abroad like to catch these whoppers; although it seems these invasive species were introduced for food for hard-up Chileans, the foreign currency from visiting anglers is no doubt very welcome. So who will save the indigenous fish? Dr Harrod is not very helpful here. He is calling ‘for the development of an adaptive, evidence-based regulatory framework . . .’ which sounds the kind of thing a politician would say to avoid doing anything.

Realistically it takes more than a research project to shift politics and economics, especially when hunger or greed are involved, and there is plenty of both in the world today. But anglers who can afford to fly to the Southern Hemisphere in search of sport do have a choice to do more to protect the environment. If we who sometimes grandly declare ourselves custodians of the environment don’t change our consuming habits, then I doubt anyone else will. How many years has your local trout stream got?

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