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Art Lander’s Outdoors: ‘America’s Bountiful Waters’ offers wealth of information on U.S. fish populations

America’s Bountiful Waters is a treasure trove of information about the natural history, conservation, and ongoing efforts to restore and expand populations of dozens of freshwater and saltwater fish.

There are profiles of the fishery scientists and field biologists who figured prominently in the stories behind these fish.

America’s Bountiful Waters

150 Years of Fisheries Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Edited by Craig Springer
Stackpole Books
Dimensions: About 9 x 12 x 1 inch thick, 288 pages
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
$49.95 Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-8117-3955-9

There’s also a detailed history of hatchery development, the pioneering methods used to propagate, feed and rear fish to stocking size, and how railway cars were fitted to transport live fish to stocking sites in the early years.

The iconic sportfish species profiled include Grayling, Trout, Salmon, Muskellunge, Northern pike, Walleye, Channel Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Bluegill, and Crappie.

Edited by Craig Springer, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico, the book commemorates 150 years of fisheries conservation by three agencies since 1871 — the U.S. Fish Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Springer wrote in the editor’s notes that “America’s Bountiful Waters has the bylines and photo credits of 48 people, all but five of them current or former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service professionals.”

The book is richly illustrated with color illustrations of fish by artist Joseph R Tomelleri, historic black and white photographs, scientific drawings and color photographs.

There is a local connection of two of the contributors.

Todd E.A. Larson, Ph.D., specializes in the history of American fishing and tackle and has written a number of books and several hundred articles on the subject. In 2006, Larsen founded the Whitefish Press, the only press dedicated to preserving the history of fish and fishing tackle in the U.S., publishing more than 150 books. Larson teaches history at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

The four articles Larsen wrote include:

1. A history of the fish hook industry in America, which coincides with the rise of the U.S. Fish Commission.

2. A profile of Marshall McDonald, a noted fishery scientist who served as commissioner of the U.S. Fish Commission from 1888, until his death in 1895. His pioneering inventions included the perfection of the fishway (or fish ladder), designed to allow migrating stream fish to pass over barriers, and a jar to hatch fish eggs. The McDonald Jar was adapted for use with a wide variety of species, from whitefish and perch, to cod and lobster. Modified versions can still be found in most hatcheries today.

3. A profile of Louella E. Cable (1900-1986), a pioneering fishery biologist, scientific illustrator, and researcher of Lake Trout and American Shad. In 1927 she became the first female scientist employed by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.

Book Editor Craig Springer (Photo from Craig Springer)

4. A profile of Dr. James Alexander Henshall (1836-1925), a fishing writer who was often referred to as the “Apostle of the Black Bass.”

Henshall, who lived in Cincinnati, off and on, throughout much of his life, is best known as the author of Book of the Black Bass, which has sold more than a half-million copies since its first publication in 1881.

Later in life, Henshall worked as a fish culturist and hatchery supervisor for U.S. Fish Commission, working with the Montana Grayling at the Bozeman Fish-Cultural Station, and later at the Tupelo Fish-Cultural Station in Mississippi, where largemouth bass were raised for stockings in Kentucky, other southern states and Cuba.

Native Kentuckian Brett Billings earned a B.A. in environmental broadcast journalism and M.S. in biology from Eastern Kentucky University, in Richmond.

A former employee of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Billings is now a video producer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. He is an avid fly fisherman, with a strong interest in tying flies of aquatic insects.

The five articles Billings wrote include:

1. A profile of Eugene W. Surber (1904-1974), whose namesake invention, the Surber Sampler, allows fishery scientists to systematically measure aquatic insects found on stream bottoms. In 1932, Surber was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries National Fish Health Research Laboratory in Leetown, West Virginia, where he studied fish diseases, pesticide effects, and hatchery techniques, publishing groundbreaking studies on DDT and fish parasites.

2. A profile of the Spotted Bass, Kentucky’s state fish, known throughout much of its range as the Kentucky Bass.

3. A profile of the Crappie, “The two species — black crappie and white crappie — were separated out in the scientific literature in 1875. Many anglers still have difficulty telling them apart, especially since the two regularly hybridize, producing offspring with an intermediate appearance, and fisheries managers have had to consider the two as one in most fishing regulations. (Creel) limits are almost always an aggregate of both. Fishery managers usually set size limits for whatever length the crappie will reach in its third year,” wrote Billings.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Crappie are present in all of Kentucky’s river drainages, and 23 major lakes.

Crappie have been raised at federal hatcheries since the days of the U.S. Fish Commission in the 1880s, and through the decades millions have been stocked throughout the country.

4. A profile of the Bluegill, “the quintessential first catch of many neophyte anglers and goes on to provide dependable catches throughout an angler’s life. Bluegills are also beloved by national fish hatchery managers for their robust hardiness and tolerance of handling, crowding, and about any other issue that would make a lesser fish go belly-up. This hardiness is part of why the bluegill is arguably the most widely distributed fish in the nation. It filled a new niche created by an explosion of farm ponds across the nation from the 1930s onward, wrote Billings.

5. A profile of the Redbreast Sunfish, which “might be the most colorful of our native sport fish. Its striking breast ranges from yellow or golden orange to bright scarlet. Wavy turquoise lines ornament its face and a big, silvery-blue teardrop splash on the side gives contrast to its olive-brown backs and namesake rosy blush below. Robin is this red-breasted panfish’s nickname,” wrote Billings

In The Fishes of Tennessee, noted fisheries scientists David Etnier and Wayne Starnes observe that the redbreast is “… generally more aggressive, more surface oriented and more active in cool waters than is the bluegill. Redbreast sunfish are also more nocturnal than other panfish, which makes angling for them in the cool of evening a way to beat the summer heat.”

The Redbreast Sunfish is uncommon in Kentucky, found only in a handful of streams in the upper Cumberland River drainage — Indian and Marsh creeks in McCreary County, Clearfork, Lot’s Creek in Whitely County and Clear Creek and Brownie’s Creek in Harlan County.

America’s Bountiful Waters is a fascinating collection of profiles of fish species, the biologists that brought many of these fish back from the verge of extinction, or through propagation, allowed them to return to their former native range.

It’s a look back at the past 150 years of fishery management in America, with an eye for the future, and the management challenges we may face in the future.

Anglers had a big role in these success stories. By purchasing licenses and permits, and paying excise taxes on fishing gear, the funds are available that enable us to continue to enjoy the sport of angling, made possible by professional fishery management on the local, state and federal level.

Aside from the enjoyment of angling and the value of the fish we catch as food, there is a big economic impact. “For every dollar in taxes invested into the federal fisheries program translates into $28 in economic impact. That equates to approximately $4 billion in annual contributions to the United
States economy,” wrote Jeff Trandahl, in the book’s prologue.

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