King said there were no fish in the lakes at the end of the last Ice Age
10,000 to 12,000 years ago. If blue pike were a separate species that
evolved from yellow pike, even 10,000 years might not have been enough
time for blues to develop a radically distinctive DNA, he reasoned.
While rallying behind King, Busch and his core supporters have distanced
themselves from a blue pike researcher in Cleveland, Ohio, with whom they
once worked. That researcher, Carol Stepien, Ph.D., of Cleveland State
University, argues that blue pike were a distinct species (a conclusion
King has not yet agreed with). But Stepien theorizes that blues, by mating
with yellows, dissipated their genetic pool.
An example of interbreeding is the fish that Jim Anthony of Conneaut,
Ohio, kept in his freezer for 37 years, and turned over to Stepien in
early 1999. Anthony always believed it was a blue pike, but Stepien's
analysis showed the fish probably had a blue pike mother and a yellow pike
or hybrid father.
If blues were reintroduced into Lake Erie, they would again breed with
yellow pike and lose their species integrity, Stepien said recently.
Stepien, formerly of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said
she has ongoing blue pike research funding from Sea Grant and the Lake
Erie Protection Fund. She said she is working with Miles Coburn of John
Carroll University in Cleveland and Ted Cavender of Ohio State University
in Columbus on a study of the physical differences between blue and yellow
pike. The results could be helpful in identifying blue pike candidates,
Ohioans have not embraced the Blue Pike Initiative, apparently believing
it might interfere with the yellow pike (walleye) fishery, which is even
more abundant in Ohio that in Pennsylvania and New York. Stepien has
attacked it on scientific grounds, saying Busch and his colleagues want to
make the research support their preconceived conclusion -- that the blue
pike still exists.
She also said there's no guarantee that blues transplanted >from a distant
Canadian lake, for example, would adopt the same behavior and habitat as
the blues that once lived in Lake Erie.
"I would be against restoring them unless you know what they'd do,"
King, too, is skeptical. He said even if blue pike are located, a sound
stocking program would require 200 to 300 adult fish to guarantee a viable
population, as opposed to a few fish used to produce many offspring. "Are
we going to establish a species by stocking a family or by stocking a
population?" he asked.
Busch, the leader of the Blue Pike Initiative, is unfazed by the skepticism.
"Twenty years ago I might have agreed," he said, but added that many fish
species native to Lake Erie have rebounded from obscurity, including
whitefish, burbot, and lake herring, which were once the main forage for
Zebra mussels have slowed the aging of the lake by filtering impurities,
further setting the stage for the resurgence of native fish, he contended.
Said Busch, "The lake is returning to a more natural condition -- a
condition that supported blue pike."
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