A peculiar fish gets a second chance

  • CHECK OUT THAT DORSAL FIN: Arctic grayling

    Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks photo
  The fluvial Arctic grayling hasn't had an easy time of it during the last 10,000 years. Left stranded in the rivers of the Northern Rockies after the last glaciers receded, it remains the only native grayling population in the lower 48 states. But the grayling almost disappeared in Montana over the last 100 years. It's been battered by decreased stream flows, warming waters, competition from non-native trout and fishing pressures; now, the grayling is found in only 4 percent of its Montana native range.

The fish, which spend their entire life in rivers, become voracious feeders in summer to maintain their unusual Arctic metabolism. The grayling munches insects about once every three minutes, which helps explain why the fish is known among anglers as gullible. Distinctive with its large, turquoise dorsal fin, the grayling has become a fixture in Montana life.

"The grayling is part of our native inheritance," says Pat Munday of the Big Hole River Foundation, a group trying to protect the watershed with the only remaining grayling population. "It's a symbol of the wildness and pristineness of an area."

Now, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks hopes to restore the Arctic grayling to five state rivers, a move that might head off the strict recovery rules of the Federal Endangered Species Act.

"We have what we believe are the best spots for reintroduction," says the agency's grayling biologist, Jim Magee. "We have looked today at the streams where grayling used to be and have found that there aren't too many places left that will give the grayling a chance."

*Juniper Davis
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