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August 13, 2004

The Kokanee in Flathead Lake--Ecology

Ben Gadd's excellent Handbook of the Canadian Rockies has a story about kokanee fish in Flathead Lake that I think I'll use in my book on "Economic Regulation and Social Regulation". Here's what he says on page 482.

The kokanee is a salmon native to Canada. It was accidentally introduced to Flathead Lake in Montana in 1916, where it thrived.

There were runs of as many as 100,000 fish into McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. Since the fish die after spawning, this attracted lots of other wildlife, including as many as 600 bald eagles. This became a leading tourist attraction--perhaps the leading attraction-- of the area.

Then in 1987 the kokanee population crashed. The problem was that in the 1970's, Montana fishery officials introduced a small crustacean called Mysis relicta that had provided good food for kokanee and trout all over the Pacific Northwest. In the deep Flathead Lake, though, it had a different effect. The Mysis stayed in deep water during the day, the time when the kokanee feed. Then it would come up to the surface at night and eat the zooplankton that was the kokanee's main food. In addition, bottom-dwelling lake trout, another introduced species, ate the Mysis and increased in number. The lake trout also liked to eat baby kokanees. Having less food and less surviving young, the kokanees were absolutely exterminated by 1995. Flathead Lake had lost its main claim to fame.

The social regulation point is that when we mess with an interlocking system we don't understand very well, very bad things can happen. We don't understand social systems very well, so messing with such things as homosexuality or the role of women can have a very bad effect.

Posted by erasmuse at August 13, 2004 02:00 PM

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