Monday, March 20, 2017

Neascus trematode: It's a Dam Shame

Who doesn't love catching a big beautiful trout. Their large and small spots make for unique artwork on the canvas of life. Unfortunately, these are not the only spots that can decorate a trout's side. During one of my busier semesters this past year I had been spending my scant fishing time on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, and what I encountered had me somewhat concerned.

Diversion dams litter the landscape here in Idaho. It's how we water all those potatoes. It's not altogether a bad thing. It often presents excellent fishing opportunities, but the fact is, they are not natural, and often prevent nature from taking care of business. The situation it creates is similar to the plaque that builds up in a human artery. Poor circulation ruins health and prevents cleansing.

The main culprit fueling my concern is a parasite called Neascus trematode. And, while fishermen often like worms, these little guys are a pain in the side, or neck, or whatever other fleshy surface they can sink themselves into. The process can ugly up a trout in a hurry.

Neascus trematode is a type of flatworm, called a fluke. These parasites burrow into the flesh of a vertebrate (trout in this case), after which the host encapsulates the parasite in melanin, creating a little black cyst. The fluke lays dormant inside of the cyst, waiting for its host to be consumed by some type of fish-eating bird. Once the fish has been consumed by a bird, the parasite matures and lays eggs inside the bird's digestive tract. The eggs are then scattered in the birds droppings. Once in the water, the eggs hatch, and the babies look for a host to mature within. In this stage they only have a short while (roughly 24 hours) to find their next victim, which, in this ecosystem is a snail. Once in the snail, the parasite matures. Then they leave the snail, looking for a fish to burrow into, and the cycle begins all over again.

Now, I'm no official biologist (though I do aspire to teach biology), but the proliferation of the parasites seems to be dependent upon how many hosts are available, for any of the given stages. In many river systems snails are a normal part of the ecosystem, but the quantity is kept in check by a lack in standing, silty water. Here is where the dams become a problem, especially on beautiful freestone rivers like the Henry's Fork. When the parasite is present, and silt and still water allow for snails to reproduce in copious amounts, the result is a spurt in parasite population. This is exactly what I have observed on the lower Henry's Fork in places that have not previously been affected by the parasite. To see it down lower, where the water meanders through silty farm fields is to be expected, since the Teton river is rampant with the parasite, but up further, on some of the water that is classified as world-class fishing, it is a frustrating find. 

In 2008 the Fall River Electric Cooperative was given the green light to install a rubber bladder system on top of the already constructed Chester Diversion Dam. The bladders added height to the dam, to further divert water into their little power-plant by increasing the water depth. This created even more of a lake than there already had been. Now, I'm not sure that the bladders made things worse or not, or if the increase in parasite population has been a direct result of warmer temperatures, but I had not noticed any fish infections before their installation. I feel they have slowed the flows enough to cause greater silt collection (more breeding ground for snails), and warmer water. The combo is hard on the fish. Warm water, and parasites! This past summer the vegetation in the water was incredible, which is definitely a correlation to warmer water. Now, I'm not sure how big of a role the dam changes play in this little equation, but it seems to be the straw that broke the camels back. It has the potential to be a tragedy for those who love the big feisty beautiful trout of the lower Henry's Fork. 

Neascus trematode Teton River victim
Another Neascus trematode Teton River victim

I wouldn't be too concerned if I had only noticed it on one or two fish, but I noticed it on every brown brought to hand, and I have seen just how bad it can become. Also, by way of note, this is not likely to become a concern much higher in the system, as the water maintains a decent flow. It is just frustrating to see it taking such a hold in the lower stretches. 

For those concerned about human health: The black spots (cysts) that result from the infestation have not been found to be fatally harmful to the fish, or even to anyone consuming the fish, though it is recommended that those who choose to eat the fish will do so after thoroughly cooking the meat.

I wish I had some kind of solution for this problem, but when money is involved, I worry that much can be done. Is it a large enough cause to rally behind? Is it even a real issue, or maybe a spike in the natural ecology? Is fish and game aware? Do they even care, or do they have bigger fish to fry? (Pun extremely intended).

At this point, I feel the best thing we can do is to keep an eye on it. With this winters snow pack, it bodes well for the coming year bringing a good flush. Who knows, if we have multiple winters like this one, maybe it will succeed in cleaning the system up as well as providing plenty of cool water for the fish throughout the warmer months. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Goodbye Dad

My father died yesterday (1/14/17). Sixty three is too soon. You hear it said often, that nothing can prepare you. I think it's a fair assessment, even for a person with failing health and an overall diminishing quality of life. Dad was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about four months ago. He had been through multiple surgeries over the past few years to take care of his back, knee, and shoulder. He fought for lucidity so hard that most couldn't see his struggle. I think his personality helped him hide it. He was in a considerable amount of pain, despite the operations and medications, but he wouldn't hesitate to jump up to help, to participate, or to just show you he cared, even through all the pain. He was the last person to think of himself or ever put himself first. We all knew he hurt, but he refused to let it stop him from loving and serving. He was a broken man, and yet one of the most whole people I will ever know.

I can't remember a time when he wasn't serving. People; serving and loving them was his life. He had every reason to turn inward, but he never did. And it can't have been easy. He grew up in a small town, with alcoholic parents who struggled to show love. As is common with those situations, he followed suit at a young age, drinking, living without bounds, delving into drugs and living a life that matched.

Then he met Mom. They dated, married, and even partied together for about five years. Once children came my mother began to see how much her little family needed stability, and divine help. She started going back to church, and Dad kept on a rocky downward path. One day Mom caught me taking a small baggy of cocaine off of a windowsill, being the curious toddler I was. It was the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. She realized that things were too dangerous to keep children in that kind of environment and began to make plans. She opened up a new bank account, went back to school to refresh her nursing skills, and prepared to move in with her mother. Dad found her journal and learned what she had been planning.

He loved her. He truly loved her. Not that shallow, if things are difficult I'm out kind of love, but that messy, I'm not going anywhere, no matter what kind of love. And she loved him back. It's the kind of love this world could use more of. He loved her, more than anything in this world. How do I know? It's simple really, he changed.

I can still remember attending N.A. meetings with him, and spending time at the Friendship Club that he volunteered at to support others dealing with drug addictions. The alcohol and drugs were the first to go, then the smoking, and eventually even the coffee. The anger and temper took longer, but eventually even they went. The fear and resentment I had as a child has given way to forgiveness, respect, and even admiration as an adult.

Age has a habit of stripping away our pride, and refining our perceptions of what truly matters in life. I have felt the process in my own life, and recognize its refining effect in my elders. I thank Heavenly Father that I lived to witness my father treating my children with the very love and tenderness that he missed showing to his own children. There is healing in that, in heart and mind, for both my father and his children.

My father's life reminds me of the movie "Big Fish." If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend taking the time. Dad never really met a mermaid, giant, or worked with a circus, but the sentiment is somehow very reminiscent of my father. Much of the movie the son is trying to comprehend his father's life, and what it really meant, and in the end has to let his father go, being left to decide whether or not to believe his father's stories. The movie ends with the son symbolically letting go of the negative judgement he had toward his father, and accepting him for what he was, a dreamer doing his best with what he had, who was able to accomplish amazing things with his vision. My own father always dreamed bigger than life, and he was so concerned about others having meaningful experiences and creating lasting memories, that it was hard to see the man behind it all. I think that's how he wanted it though, all about others. It was he who taught me that some of the best experiences and moments of life are created, not just happened upon. I don't think most people who enjoyed the things he organized realized the attention to detail and the amount of work that went into the orchestration, and that's how he wanted it, all about the experience.

My dad taught me to serve, to repent, to create, to serve some more, even when it was hard, and most importantly, to love with a love more fierce than death or addiction. All the difficulty and sorrows of the past are swallowed up in the goodness of his life, and his lasting legacy.

Like a big and magnificent fish... I had to let him go too.

But don't think the tone of those words is hopeless or even really sad at its core. I know because of Jesus Christ I'll get to be with him again, but next time it will be without the limitations of mortality, and I have no doubt it will be such a happy reunion that the weak words we use now could not ever truly describe it.  Till then Dad, keep on the lookout for some good water, and keep the rods rigged up. In the meantime, know I love you.

For those interested in reading the obituary: In Loving Memory of William Theadore "Ted" Cutler