Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations
Lyons Press; 1st edition (October 15, 2013), 304 pp $26.95
Committed to the health of water systems (streams, rivers, oceans), John Waldman is an active conservationist, but he got there not just from book learning and theory. Some would call it pure self-interest. He has loved to fish since he was a little kid...(me, too, I've been fishing off the rocks for cunner since I could swing a casting rod).
Running Silver is Waldman's first book that spotlights the plight of the fish themselves. "There are more than 29,000 species of fish on the planet today...of these about 250 species migrate from salt to fresh or fresh to salt to spawn.
In the first part of the book he examines historical documents that attest to the past plentitude of fish worldwide in the early centuries of humans catching fish. Every body of water was teeming with fish. (To my mind, the most obvious reason there were more fish was because there were fewer of us.) As our tribe has increased there has, of course, been more fishing. The "resource" seemed unlimited...so the inevitable happened. With the deployment of "factory ships, over fishing reached its apex...the catch numbers for these behemoths is measured in tons not numbers...especially when you consider the proportion that was ground up to fish "meal" was used from fertilizer to livestock feed. Some salt water species are already gone...Consider the magnificent sword fish...yummy, weren't they? Limits are now being applied but it is already too late for many magnificent salt water species.
Waldman concentrates his attention on fish who travel up rivers to spawn. Their water environment changes from zero parts per thousand of salinity in fresh water to thirty-five parts per thousand in sea water..."about 250 species do this as a routine and predictably. Fish that migrate up rivers to spawning grounds are "anadromous". The best known anadromous fishes on the east coast of North America are Atlantic salmon, striped bass, American shad, alewife, and Atlantic sturgeon…all delicious and avidly fished, both for sport and commercially.
Waldman follows a variety of the fast diminishing number of migrants up the rivers of the northeast of the United States and Canada to spawning grounds, describing the obstacles and water degradation en route.
Water quality is the major issue. Industrial pollution, housing development pollution, diversion of water for power have so fouled or diminished the flow of rivers like the Kennebec, the Merrimac and the Connecticut (among hundreds of others) that theses popular fish populations are in danger of crashing entirely. (He does include some triumphant reversal efforts so the story is not all doom and gloom.)
Efforts to build fish ladders around obstacles (that would be hydro-electric dams for the most part) have been mixed, but mostly failures. Removal seems to be the only efficacious solution. New generation technology can't come fast enough (Living in Maine, I was very proud when the dam across the Kennebec was blown up, but I drive across the Route one bridge almost daily and look at the local power company's dam across our little local stream.)
Though the numbers are dismal, there are efforts being made to increase fish numbers. Fish farms are being developed but to date are not particularly successful. New sources of energy, instead of hydro, are being developed, albeit with a lot of foot dragging...after all, what's cheaper than water which has no owner who has to be paid? Nuclear is becoming safer, wind is becoming popular and solar…the best possible solution is being vigorously investigated.
Note: Running Silver will be in the bookstores by the middle of October.
While you're waiting, enjoy other books by John Walden:
100 Ways to Catch Fish (reviewed here in September, 2006)
Dance of the Flying Gurnards (reviewed March 2005)
Heartbeats in the Muck (reviewed November 2000)