Fish, Fisheries and Queryomics
Beel asks you to imagine a fish so dangerous that there literally is a bounty on its head. A fish so terrible, that it had to change its name. What would such a fish look like? How many children has it eaten?
Beel has a surprise for you. The culprit is a minnow (drawing from gotmyfishon.com).
The northern pike minnow is found in rivers of the Pacific northwest from British Columbia, Canada to portions of the Columbia River drainage in northern Nevada, USA.
To burnish its image, the northern pikeminnow, for years known as the northern squawfish, legally changed its name in 1998 after a petition was made to the American Fisheries Society. This public relations ploy, however, failed to solve the pikeminnow’s main image problem. It is a predator, reaching lengths of up to 25 inches according to FishBase. And it eats small salmon and trout.
This, of course is a problem. For millenia, northern pikeminnow and salmon co-existed in the streams and rivers of the Pacific northwest. Then, in the past 80 years, or so, these rivers were dammed by humans, with well-known impacts on salmon populations. In particular, these dams disrupted spawning migrations of adult fish and the subsequent downstream movements of young fish as they tried to go to sea.
But now, the problem of declining salmon and trout numbers can be solved by placing a bounty on the head of pikeminnows. It really wasn’t the dams after all. It was the pikeminnow.
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which sells power produced by dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers, implemented The Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program. This program pays anglers for catching and keeping pikeminnows 9 inches in length, or larger. (Beel asks you to please note, this is a “reward” program.)
The bounty currently ranges from $4 to $8 per fish. As an angler catches and removes greater and greater numbers of pikeminnows, the bounty per fish increases! Anglers have earned bounties in excess of $60-80K per year, according to the Southern Oregon Mail Tribune. Not a bad gig, says Beel.
The BPA boasts that, since 1990, over 3.9 million northern pikeminnow have been removed by the Sport Reward Fishery and that predation on juvenile salmonids has been cut by an estimated 40% (this is at the higher end of available estimates). Sure predation may be reduced, but Beel asks whether this is the real problem?
Oh, the pikeminnows with the price their heads? Captured fish are are processed into fishmeal for animal feeds, according to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. So its not like they’re wasted or anything. This makes Beel feel so much better.
Now, Beel presents the results of a Google Insights for Search analysis of pikeminnow queries. The is variable interest, which seems to have gone down in recent years. The peak search volumes are in late spring, coincident with the opening of the pikeminnow reward season in May: There’s money to be make catchin’ them minnows!