America’s Bountiful Waters: A must read for all anglers and fish scientists

By: Patrick Cooney

No one was compensated for this review.

In a digital and technological age, one gets the sense that the “coffee table book” has been retired to a bygone era.  Then along comes a beautifully written and illustrated book, titled “America’s Bountiful Waters”, and flips that idea onto another page.

Upon feasting one’s eyes on the rich cast of characters and extraordinary tales about fish in this ~300-page masterpiece, one quickly realizes that phone and television screens everywhere should take caution. 

Anyone within arm’s reach of this hardbound book will be drawn to spend a few minutes looking through the more than 400 hundred painstakingly preserved and photographed archival images, maps, and artifacts.  Before you know it, an hour will be gone, and you will be filled with pride and wonder at the accomplishments of fish science and the beautiful kaleidoscope of colors that fill our nation’s aquatic environments.

The intended purpose of the book is to celebrate the 150 years of fisheries conservation in the United States carried out from the early days of the United States Bureau of Fisheries all the way to the present-day United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  Craig Springer (Editor) absolutely achieved this lofty and incredible goal.  Additionally, his passion, honed craft, and lifetime of blending art and science allows the book to do far more.

If you love fish and have ever enjoyed a Ken Burns documentary about the rich history of the interaction of humans with the natural world, then this book is for you.  Artsy prose most often associated with fishing novels, along with factual information more commonly found in scientific literature, are skillfully and splendidly blended in this book that hooks any reader with an interest in fish.  It is rare to find such a book as this that is of keen interest to the angler and the fish scientist.

Starting off, the book presents a fascinating read about the commencement and 150-year journey of fish science in the United States.  The book quickly shifts to focus on more than 40 fish species and a handful of other unique and spectacular aquatic organisms (turtles, salamanders, mussels, and plants).  Each organism is given several pages where colorful illustrations, from master artist Joseph R. Tomelleri, provide unparalleled detail.  Wonderfully, each fish story is told by a researcher working closely with that organism, leading to incredible first-hand expertise that reads with passion and a deep sense of a lifetime of devotion.

The book begs the reader to turn to the next page with hundred-year-old (and older) images that are preserved and printed so well that one feels as if they could jump into the pictures with the woolen garbed, bowler hat wearing hatchery workers from the early 1900s. 

Special thanks are given to the talented individuals, Carlos Martinez and April Gregory, at the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives in Spearfish, South Dakota who preserve and archive the history of fish science in the United States and contributed heavily to this book.

The book brilliantly discusses the history of fishing in the United States and the intertwined relationship it has with fish science.  Further, it explores the rich history of early tribal fisheries at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River to current day fisheries for salmon in Alaska; the early days of fish culture that launched the idea of fish management to the modern hatcheries that work daily in an attempt to mitigate the human impacts on our aquatic landscapes.  These topics are discussed and illustrated with care and with passion from the fish scientists who are daily on the frontlines.  Importantly, the reader is properly allowed to reflect on where we have been and where we are going in the field of fish science, and how we can rely on diverse cultures and individuals to best navigate that path.

Beyond the most important characters in the book, being the fish, are the individual pages devoted to the forward thinkers, the barrier breakers, the trail blazers in fish science.  No matter your background, you will find a hero in fish science to identify with and look up to in the rich history of fish science.  I commend the Editor in not only highlighting the more commonly written about individuals in fish science, but also those who have inspired new generations of diverse thinkers to join the ranks of fish science. 

Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the individuals who invented some of the more commonly used tools in fish science that only existed in name as part of the gear (McDonald Jar, Surber Sampler, Fearnow Pails).

It is with good reason that the book is “humbly dedicated to the scores of men and women and their families, who have worked to conserve America’s fisheries since 1871 under the banners of the U.S. Fish Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and today’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”  The book goes on to say that, “the work is often performed in remote places under harsh circumstances requiring grit and perseverance, for not only the workers, but their families as well. From the depths of destruction in the nation’s watery kingdom…, there arose the largest and most successful wildlife agency in the world. That is a fish tale worth recounting.”

Pick up a copy and take a moment to celebrate the people, science, and organisms that make up 150 years of the past, and the 150 years to come, in “America’s Bountiful Waters.”

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