Thursday, January 10, 2013

Distant Relatives.....

Here is a picture of a trout caught a couple of summers ago in my local stream, the River Wey,

This is not atypical of the larger trout in the river. At the time I could not help thinking that it looked a little bit familiar and I remember thinking that this trout was reminiscent of trout from New Zealand that I had seen. A little bit of research online resulted in lots of detail.

Fortunately Charles Rangeley-Wilson had previously compiled all the detail into the following fascinating article, originally published in 'The Field',

Before the 4th May 1864 there were no trout in the southern hemisphere. Many had thought that there never would be: “You may as well try to fetch Australia to England as to carry spawn to it in moss,” wrote Robert Ramsbottom, an eminent breeder of salmon, to James Youl, the man trying to take them there.

Homesick colonial fishermen eyed their local streams with longing. Wherever the map was red, and land was high enough and water cold enough, new world fishermen imagined scenes of highland bliss in their adopted lands; of “bringing the lordly salmon to grass among picturesque granitic hills, which may well recall many a wild scene in the highlands of bonnie Scotland, or the softer glories of the Irish lakes,” wrote Arthur Nicols.

If the physical difficulties of carrying trout and salmon 16,000 miles on a voyage lasting three months were considerable, the Victorians never questioned the ethics of success, even though the new “exotics” would most likely oust the native fish. “Though a distant and obscure relative (of the trout) is found in some rivers of India, and another in New Zealand and the Falkland Islands, no one ignorant of anatomy would suspect the remotest connection of these imposters with the noble stock.”

Shipping out the best of the old world to the new in the mid-nineteenth century was nothing more than a good idea, and the Victorians played God in doing so. 

By 1861 the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria had filled the Melbourne Gardens with camels, magpies, skylarks, Angora goats, and English pheasants, among a host of other beasts, and the thrush, blackbird and starling could be heard in all directions. But there weren’t any trout.

In 1860 they employed James Youl to pack 30,000 salmon ova from the Dovey. The S Curling left Liverpool on February 25, eight years after a Mr Boccius had tried to ship trout to Tasmania and failed, the ova shaken and parboiled by the time they reached the tropics. This time, Youl’s apparatus was ingenious and complicated. The ice house was lined with lead, and charcoal. Above it, a water tank with a pipe passing round the ice, spilled cold water onto the ova, which lay on gravel swing-trays on an incline. But the ova died. More ice was needed.

Next time, the ice melted when the ship was no further south than on the first voyage, and there were protests in the press about misuse of money. But Youl had discovered the principle of success when he included a small pine box of ova and moss, and placed it in the middle of the ice.

After a series of experiments in the vaults of the Wenham Lake Ice Company in London, he found that he could dispense with the gimbals, swing trays and plumbing, and simply pack the eggs in ice. He took pleasure in proving his critics wrong. We “exhumed one of the boxes containing ova that had been buried (as many persons prognosticated, in their icy graves) on the 17th January last. I cannot describe the anxiety of all present to get a first sight of these ova, or the pleasure visible on every countenance to find as the moss (shrouds, as many expected) was removed, our little friends alive and perfectly healthy.” 

In January 1864 the Norfolk sailed with 100,000 salmon and 3000 trout ova packed under fifty tons of ice. Eighty-four days later she dropped anchor in Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne. Half the shipment was quickly transferred by steamship to Tasmania, transferred again into a barge which was towed to the wharf at New Norfolk. By sunrise the next day fifty men and ten teams of horses were waiting. Boxes and ice were slung in blankets on bamboo poles and walked overland to the hatching ponds on the River Plenty. Of the three thousand trout ova, 200 hatched.

James Youl had done the impossible, but Youl was always too modest. His friend Frank Buckland who had helped with some of the experiments inspired the wrath of Arthur Nicols for taking credit that didn’t belong to him. Nicols wrote to the Field: “I wish to give him (Frank Buckland) the opportunity of unbinding the wreath of triumph from his brows. The whole of the success has been claimed by Mr Buckland repeatedly, and he has not been careful to disavow the honour at all times in all places.”

As it happened, that voyage was the first and only successful shipment of brown trout to Tasmania. Most of the time and money was spent sending out salmon ova. 867,000 were taken in ten voyages between 1861 and 1879, though they never established themselves in the south seas. Of those original 200 trout hatchlings, 30 escaped into the River Plenty, and six pairs survived in the ponds to spawn. The great grandparents of every brown trout in every river in Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand.

They grew well too. Ten years on a trout of over 16 lbs was caught in the Tasmanian Derwent, one of 5 1/2 lb was caught in the River Clyde, and a Mr Weaver took six trout weighing 30 lbs. Writers got carried away, with a mixture of wishful thinking and apocaliptic vision: “Long after our home fish have attained so critical an experience as to know at a glance the maker of the fly offered them – they really seem to be coming to this – the unsophisticated denizens of Australia will rush at the grasshopper impaled on the bent pin of the rustic urchin. Long before the end of this century when a growing population shall have driven the salmon in disgust from most of our rivers, the sportsman will take his rod, and seek among the fern covered ranges of the Australian Alps, and the deep tarns and pools of Tasmania and New Zealand, the noble quarry which has found a home in the antopdes.” 

Looked at from our end of history there might well have been a dose of arrogance behind the acclimatisation movement. You have to be sure of your place in the universe to look at a native species, and call it an “imposter”. And yet southern hemisphere trout fishing is big tourism industry now, and one which governments seem determined to protect. The Victorian spirit which we might question today has undoubtedly given us a magnificent legacy. It is ironic that those New Zealand brown trout came from two home-counties streams that have been wiped out by pollution: the Wey and The Wick. The Wick famous for its strain of beautiful, fast-growing trout. We might well end up shipping them back.

Final point to note is that there is no need to ship them back to the Wey, the trout are doing pretty well by themselves!

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