Video northern pikeminnow edible

Kris caught a northern pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis) in Oregon. Pikeminnows are the largest member of the minnow family, Cyprinidae. It’s a native of Oregon and of the Columbia drainage. It’s nativity is right there in the species name: oregonensis.

The current world record pikeminnow weighed over 13 pounds, and Kris’s fish was small, no more than half a pound. Other than being caught, the fish was in no way remarkable. It’s apparently common to catch big pikeminnows, as long or longer than 24 inches and weighing more than three pounds. They can live longer than 15 years, and they reach sexual maturity from three to eight years. They spawn in the spring, and females can release up to 30,000 eggs.

Even though they’re not an invasive species, they are a fish of “ecological concern.” They are voracious piscivores, thrive in the dammed Columbia drainage, and are hell on smolt salmon. Hell and dam. They’re ugly, with their ragged scales and harsh jaw. They’re not considered edible, though somebody surely eats them. Anglers hate them. If ever there was a trash fish, it’s the pikeminnow.

Before the northern pikeminnow was the northern pikeminnow it was the northern squawfish. It was renamed by the Names of Fishes Committee of the American Fisheries Society. A bit later the same Committee renamed the Jewfish as the goliath grouper. Goliath grouper is a pretty good name, certainly a better name than Jewfish, but if I were a pikeminnow I’d feel slighted.

FMIB 51997 Florida Jewfish Promiscops itaiara Lichtenstein St Johns River Fla Pikeminnow
Florida goliath grouper, Jordan, David Starr (1907) Fishes, New York City, NY: Henry Holt and Company

The fish is also known as the Columbia River dace, and Columbia River dace would have been a pretty cool name. But no. Pikeminnow.

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“Squawfish” may have originally derived from squawkfish, from the noise a pikeminnow makes when caught. Apparently American Indian names for the fish are often onomatopoeic. That’s not the name that caught on though. “Squaw” is probably derived from a Massachusett language word for woman, but it is considered particularly derisive, connoting subordinate status, sexual availability, stupidity, and squalor. Nobody needs that around.

800px FMIB 34324 Ptychocheilus oregonensis Rich Squawfish Pikeminnow
Columbia River dace, Evermann, Barton W. (1893) Reconnaissance of the streams and lakes of western Montana and northwestern Wyoming, Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, vol. 11, 1891, Government Printing Office

In addition to the fish, there are plenty of geographic references to squaw, most notably Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California, and the Names of Fishes Committee may not get around to those any time soon. Of course there’s plenty of uses of Indian identity that are generally considered offensive: the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo, and the Atlanta Braves’ tomahawk chop just to name three. I’m personally offended by the tomahawk chop, though it’s probably because I saw it so often when the Astros and the Braves were in the same league. The Braves had Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux. We could have used some pikeminnow for Smoltz.

There’s also Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Indian ancestry, which the Cherokee Nation, one of the three recognized Cherokee tribes, now finds offensive. Warren is originally from Oklahoma, and last week she released genetic testing data after a dare by President Trump. It’s a thing for whites (and blacks) in Oklahoma and the South to claim some trace of Native American ancestry, particularly Cherokee, and for such stories to be part of Oklahoma family lore. Senator Warren’s claim should surprise no one who knows her home, and it is the Oklahomanness of her claim that interests me. The problem with her claim is that she listed herself as a minority based on her Native American heritage in an Association of American Law Schools directory, and Harvard briefly touted her as a minority based on her claims. She did not, as the more inflammatory accounts state, list herself as Native American on job or law school applications.

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Scan002 Pikeminnow
1983 University of Houston Law Center Yearbook

Based on the published reports of her DNA testing, Senator Warren’s genetic claims are remote, but they are there. Senator Warren could claim she likely had ancestors who were Cherokee, just as I could claim to have likely had ancestors who were French. It would be overdone for me to claim to be French, but growing up in a culture, Oklahoma, where that heritage was peculiarly valued, the claim is common, even among those (unlike Senator Warren), who don’t have Senator Warren’s genetics. That for whatever reason is Oklahoman.

Kris is a big fan of Senator Warren, having had her as a law school professor long before the Senator’s Harvard days. Kris thought her brilliant, passionate, and an excellent teacher. I never had her as a teacher, don’t have strong opinions about her, and only note that the Senator’s Oklahomanness will follow her into 2020.

After I first posted this I came back and rewrote it because of Kris’s fondness for Senator Warren. My original tone was unnecessarily glib and dismissive, and didn’t really say what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was that white and black Oklahoma has a history that is so intertwined with American Indian Oklahoma that they believe, true or no, that they are fundamentally, at their literal roots, a part of it.

In the interim, the principal chief of the third major Cherokee tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokees who never left North Carolina for Oklahoma, were more circumspect and fair in their statements about Senator Warren’s genetic announcement. “Like many other Americans, she has a family story of Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and evidence of Native ancestry.” She had not claimed tribal membership.

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“Senator Warren has demonstrated her respect for tribal sovereignty and is an ally of the Eastern Band. As such, we support her and other allies — regardless of party — who promote tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and protection of Cherokee women.”

Meanwhile there is a bounty paid by the Bonneville Power Authority on pikeminnows caught in the Columbia River. As I said, they are not a sport fish, so the bounty is to encourage anglers to target and remove large numbers of fish. One to 25 fish pays $5 per fish, 26 to 200 fish pays $6 per fish, 201 fish and up pays $8 per fish. A tagged fish is worth $500. There are stories of fisher folk making a living on the pikeminnow bounty. Tempting.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>