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Reviewed by:
  • Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West by Mark Spitzer
  • Keith B. Gido and Garrett W. Hopper
Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West. By Mark Spitzer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017. vii + 222 pp. Photographs, illustrations, notes. $24.95 cloth.

We highly recommend Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West to scientists, conservation biologists, and all who consider themselves fish enthusiasts. From the perspective of researchers who dedicate much of our lives to enjoying, researching, and conserving freshwater fish diversity, this book is a pleasure to read from cover to cover. It is clear that Spitzer is a fish enthusiast to the bone. Not only does he enjoy the sport of angling, but he is deeply curious about the ecology of fishes and their ecosystems. His enthusiasm is inspiring enough to be able to convey an appreciation of the Earth’s amazing fish diversity to a broad readership. This book provides accounts of 11 expeditions to catch unique species of western fish. Each chapter includes interesting information ranging from the ecology of the species to capture methods. Spitzer has aligned himself with scientists and conservation biologist researching those species, resulting in a broad perspective on why these fish are interesting and important. He does a great job acknowledging the challenges facing freshwater fish conservation while also conveying the important fact that there is a broad interest in preserving these species and their ecosystems.

Spitzer’s acknowledgment of how complex conservation of these species can be is particularly relevant in the face of changing cultural values of both anglers and society. For example, invasive species such as Asian Carp, Burbot, and Northern Pikeminnow are all thought to be problematic, having been implicated in the declines of other native species. Spitzer reviews a number of creative management programs that have been implemented to control or eradicate these problem species. He also identifies key management challenges and opportunities that arise when cultural values shift to include nontraditional fisheries such as trophy Alligator Gar or massively popular catfish noodling tournaments. He also acknowledges successful management efforts such as the harvest limits on Alligator Gar in Texas or the bounty program for Northern Pikeminnow. Chapters on Razorback Sucker and Colorado Pikeminnow present a good case for species preservation that traditionally has been limited to fish with some commercial value. Although we are a long way from a perfect solution, conveying the challenges and opportunities to conserve species to a broad audience of researchers, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts will go a long way toward facilitating effective fisheries management.

The concluding chapter outlines an environmental ethic that concerns all aspects of diversity, not only highly charismatic species. Spitzer argues that although many freshwater fishes might be considered “grotesque” by some, they are considered “beautiful” by others. Those who believe there is beauty in the interesting and unique ecology of all fish species will find a strong connection with the theme of this book. Importantly, this general theme provides a solid framework and conservation ethic toward a group of animals that do not get as much attention as other species that have been marketed as more popular fisheries. [End Page 222]

Keith B. Gido and Garrett W. Hopper
Division of Biology
Kansas State University


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