Name change caused controversy

Jeff Weltz shares his thoughts on steelhead in this week's column

My last column generated a bit of a stir, due to my referencing steelhead with their longest running name, salmo gairdneri, rather than their current name oncorhynchus mykiss. Originally, steelhead were believed to be of the Atlantic salmon genus because their ability to survive spawning and return up to three times. To the best of my knowledge, the name change to oncorhynchus (Pacific salmon) was made by the American Fisheries Society’s Committee on Names of Fish in 1989. This change was not without controversy, which continues to this day. The greatly revered sport fishing and steelhead authority Trey Combs, had these words to say on name the change.

“My steelhead, salmo gairdneri, a name fixed in Northwest history, became the incomprehensible and largely unpronounceable oncorhynchus mykiss.”

I greeted this with disbelief and consternation. Pacific salmon died after spawning. The United States and B.C. managed salmon as a food fish. A steelhead and an Atlantic salmon were closely related in literature. I saw them as cousins. The steelhead, it is a fish of controversy and a fish of legend. The mystery and the politics that surround this fish are astounding. Have you been out to catch yours yet? The Thompson is open!

– Submitted by Jeff Weltz

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