A New Guidebook Highlights Idaho’s Native Fish

May 20, 2013

From the book "Native Fishes of Idaho"

You can pick up a number of different Audubon-style guides if you're a bird watcher.  But it’s a different story when it comes to fish.  Many Idaho fish haven’t been studied.

Dr. Donald Zaroban has spent a good part of his life studying fish.  He's the curator of fishes at the College of Idaho.  And he co-wrote the new book “Native Fishes of Idaho.”  It’s a detailed look at fish native to the Gem State.  Samantha Wright asked him if he had a favorite fish in the book.

“I probably wouldn’t call it a favorite, I’ve had one that I’ve studied the most.  The Wood River Sculpin is the fish that I studied as part of my doctoral degree.”

Q. There’s a category for each fish, titled Idaho Conservation Status.  Several of the entries discuss problems facing the fish, often human-related. As a group, how are native fish doing in Idaho?

A. Well, overall, as a group, I would say we don’t know.  Primarily because the non-game fishes have not received the study of where are they, why are they where they are, and those sorts of questions, so overall as a group I don’t believe we really know.  But the trout and salmon and those are pretty well studied.

Q. There are a lot of fish in this book, not all of them are well-known.  One that sticks out for me is the slimy sculpin. How rare are the fish listed here?

A. Some of them are very rare.  Some of them are widely distributed.  The rare ones, we have three sculpins for instance that are endemic to Idaho.  Wood River Sculpin being one, Bear Lake Sculpin being another, and the Shoshone Sculpin and they have very narrow distributions.  But others, like the red side shiners and the dace are distributed virtually statewide.

Q. When I look at this book, I think of an Audubon Field Guide, there are drawings of each fish, along with a map, description, and other information about the fish. Would this book be useful to the casual fishermen, or is it more for hard-core anglers?

A. I believe it would serve both, but certainly the casual angler would get interest in seeing what are native in Idaho and I believe the book would also be of interest to natural history buffs as well.

Q. What would you like people to take away from this book?

A. What I would like them to take away is to just raise awareness of the natural fishes of Idaho and that in fact we don’t know a great deal about the taxa in there.  I enjoy looking at the distributions and looking at the watershed health.  Do we have the fishes here we should have?  Do we have some we shouldn’t have?  Are there some missing?  Those types of questions.

Q. Are you only looking at fish native to Idaho in the book, what about the rest of the fish in the state?  Is there another book on the horizon?

A. You do.  I have been approached by Dr. John Sigler, he and his father authored “The Fishes of Utah” and “The Fishes of the Great Basin.”  We will be doing a follow up and we are in the conceptual formulation stages of that book right now.

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