Salmon Connections


A funny thing happened on my way to New Zealand, my colleagues told me about the Pacific Chinook Salmon living in New Zealand. Whaaaat??

It seems that once upon a time when a young United States was expanding in the west, an energetic Livingston Stone was US Deputy Fish Commissioner, America’s Senior Fish Culturist, and ultimately the “father of fish culture on the Pacific Coast”. He zealously went about the western U.S. introducing non-native fish like striped bass into streams and the California delta where they harass dwindling salmon populations. (Thanks Stone.) He also shipped Chinook Salmon eggs around the world in the late 1800s.

Some of those eggs found their way to New Zealand and were planted on rivers in South Island including the Rangitata, Opihi, Ashburton, Rakaia, Waimakiri, Hurunu, and Waiau Rivers. Alas, the Kiwis also built hydro-electric facilities and irrigation canals that blocked the salmon’s access to the high mountain streams and the spawning grounds they love. Some remain.

Today you can fish for Chinook salmon whose ancestors swam in the Russian River on the two wild and scenic Rangitata and Waimakiri Rivers. I spoke with Barry Clark by phone, a fishing and hunting guide based in Lake Tekapo, and he explained that the salmon adapted well. They come back after 2-3 years at sea so they are smaller than California’s salmon. The wild stock are also fewer in number due to harsher conditions at sea–what with warmer sea temperatures and increased commercial fishing. Otherwise the life cycle is the same: spawning on gravel beds, and rearing on floodplain from fry to smolt, before going out to sea.

The story comes full circle as the Winnemem Wintu tribe in Northern California believes that the surviving salmon in New Zealand are genetically closer to their historic salmon that spawned on the upper McCloud River but were all but destroyed when Shasta Dam was built. They are lobbying for these fish to be reintroduced and NOAA is studying the genetics of the fish and considering the possibility. The tribe’s quest is detailed in an award-winning documentary. This is part of an ongoing debate over fish hatcheries–including the one named after Livingston Stone.

If you do find yourself in the Canterbury region of South Island in New Zealand, then give Barry Clark a call (6806-513) and he can show you the best places to fish for trout in canals and lakes year round or to fly fish from the first Saturday in November.

busy-beePostscript:  Not every introduced species is problematic. Another case in point is the bumblebee. Four species of bumblebee was introduced from Britain at the turn of the 20th century to pollinate red clover. None of the native bees had long enough tongue to reach inside red clover flowers, but the imported bumblebees could do the job. Red clover is essential to sheep and dairy pastures.  Over time, England’s bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus went extinct. Now beekeepers in England are working to reintroduce New Zealand bumblebees. The bumblebee also inspired a classic Kiwi toy.


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