Could the collaboration between athletes and scientists enhance our success in protecting species? Here’s the story of how fishermen and biologists have come together to save one rather unique fish from extinction!

Calling on the talents and skills of others in our community can help us speed up progress! When scientists and athletes team up, we have the collective superpower of being in multiple places at once; keeping information flowing from the natural world to the lab with the combined talents of two skilled groups of people.

This is why groups of flyfishing anglers wind up on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia for a few months every year. Drawn into the area by the allure of the—now rare—steelhead trout (we’ll learn more about these unique fish in a minute), they’re able to have the experience of catching this protected fish, all while helping scientists study them better!

Using their fishing skills, they’re working in collaboration with scientists to catch, tag, and collect samples from the fish to build a better understanding of how they live, with hopes to prevent their healthy numbers from declining as they have off of the Pacific Northwest.

Let’s take a closer look!

Image: Person fly fishing in a river. Looks like they got a bite!

Photo courtesy of Matt Harris

So, what is this fish they’re protecting?

Steelhead is quite an interesting species of fish. Technically, they’re a rainbow trout; there’s really no biological difference between the two. The difference lies entirely in their behaviors. While both are born in rivers and streams, steelhead journey into the ocean for most of their lives—only returning to the river to spawn 1—while rainbow trout will stay in the streams. Add in the fact that those ocean explorers will pick up oceanic qualities while they’re out there, and you have a trout that behaves way more like a salmon—one that can reach monstrous lengths of 45 inches and ring in at weights of 40-50 lbs!

This makes steelhead particularly interesting to study, as they only leave the ocean and return to freshwater once a year.

While populations of steelhead are in decline around North America, the population that returns to Russia from the Asiatic Sea each year is still thriving and can give clues to how to protect other remaining populations!

The Kamchatka Steelhead Project is a US-Russia partnership that monitors the Russian population of steelhead that gather in the Kamchatka Peninsula. Founded in 1994, they’ve been bringing groups of anglers in to catch, collect information on, and then release this unique fish!

The area they’re working in is still relatively untouched by humans—so this is about as close to an au naturel study of a species in nature as you could hope to get. 2 But what draws in the people who catch them isn’t just the chance to use their skills to participate in a unique study. No, these massive fish are protected under Russia’s Red Book of Rare and Disappearing species, meaning they’re illegal to target as a catch… that is, unless it’s for science.

This beautiful video from Felt Soul Media gives us a peek into how these anglers work, what drives them to do what they do, and the results of their efforts on this once-in-a-lifetime trip!

You can see more wonderful short films from Felt Soul Media over on their website or Vimeo channel! And give them a follow on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to stay up to date with their work.

Discover more about The Kamchatka Steelhead Project…

The Kamchatka Steelhead Project is jointly operated under the protection, backing, and support of Moscow State University, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Federal Government, The Conservation Angler (an advocacy group for wild fish in the Pacific range) and The Fly Shop (a leader in fly fishing equipment). 4

You can learn more about the Kamchatka Steelhead Project by visiting this page of one of their supporters, The Fly Shop. They have a lot of really great information about this unique area and fish, and how you can cast your own line for conservation with this effective collaborative project!

Want to keep an eye on other great opportunities to support programs and groups working to save wild fish populations?

The Conservation Angler, one of the abovementioned principal supporters of the Kamchatka Steelhead Project, urges its followers to take action to protect wild fish, and often posts action alerts from their partner organizations on their social media channels! Give them a follow on Facebook or Instagram to stay in the know.

“The Conservation Angler is a watch-dog organization – we hold public agencies, countries, and nations accountable for protecting and conserving wild fish for present and future generations – using all legal, administrative and political means necessary to prevent the extinction and to foster a long-term recovery of wild steelhead, salmon, trout and, char to fishable and ultimately, harvestable abundance.”

Head to their website to see more of the work they’re doing and learn how you can get involved!

When science and sport combine! 

There’s something so natural about science and outdoor communities teaming up. You’re dealing with two groups of people who are bound by the same care, although they’re coming at it from different sides. Athletes, whether they’re fishermen, runners, kayakers, or hikers, rely on nature to do what they love. Scientists, of course, want to study the natural world. So there’s a collaboration that can happen—and is happening—around the world to make sure both parties get what they want.

We’ve seen this before in a past article about Adventure Scientists. By pairing scientists with adventurers, they’ve been able to collect more data than they ever have before. In fact, this collaboration is what resulted in the discovery of microplastics.

With more data, we’re able to track changes in ecosystems so that we can intervene and make changes before it’s too late.

It’s exciting to know that whatever you enjoy doing, there is space to collaborate with people who share your passions. And that, together, your combined expertise could make a big difference. Collaboration is where progress lives. There are ways to turn whatever you love to do into something that can benefit the planet directly.

Want to learn more about how anglers and hunters are working to preserve precious ecosystems? Check out these articles:

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  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein 

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Notes:

  1. “One Fish, Two Forms, Many Questions – Steelhead vs. Rainbow Trout.” Fishbio.Com, 6 July 2015, fishbio.com/field-notes/the-fish-report/one-fish-two-forms-many-questions. Accessed 26 Nov. 2019.
  2. “The Fly Shop.” Theflyshop.Com, 2019, www.theflyshop.com/travel/kamchatka/steelhead.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019.
  3. FELT  SOUL  MEDIA. “Kamchatka Steelhead Project.” Vimeo, FELT SOUL MEDIA, Nov. 2016, vimeo.com/157338923. Accessed 26 Nov. 2019.
  4. “The Fly Shop.” Theflyshop.Com, 2019, www.theflyshop.com/travel/kamchatka/steelhead.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019.

Sam Burns

Editor in Chief

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world to the simple joys in life. Her experiences with mental health and loss fuel her curiosity to connect to what’s happening on our planet in a different way. Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses!