They’re the second-class game fish in Rocky Mountain trout streams. Many anglers enjoy catching mountain whitefish, prosopium williamsoni, but few will admit it. It seems sort of like divulging a penchant for pizza at a weight-watchers meeting.
Last year, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection for a dwindling, isolated population of whitefish in Idaho’s Big Lost River under the Endangered Species Act. Though living in a river that disappears into a sink, isolated from other whitefish for an estimated 165,000+ years by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and numbering a mere 1.5% of their historic levels, the fed decided they didn’t classify as a Distinct Population Segment. Which leads this bewildered layperson to wonder, if that isn’t distinct, what is?
Perhaps if the whitefish were a trout, a species especially prized by anglers, the situation would have been different. Get enough folks howling behind an ESA petition, and the advocacy certainly seems to affect the outcome of “science.”
For my part, I’m proud to admit I enjoy fishing for whitefish. They’re a plucky, intriguing species, true natives to the Rockies, unlike most of the naturalized trout. As for those in the Big Lost River, hopefully they’ll one day get the protection they deserve — before their indistinct population disappears altogether.