I could tell you that the creature pictured above is a pikeminnow. After all, most Pacific Northwesterners have never seen one, even though thousands of them are in our rivers. Heck, I’d never seen one until a few years ago and I’ve lived here for more than 15 years.
This strange fish is so odd that the department of health advises you not to eat them, yet the department of fish and wildlife in two states will pay you four bucks for each fish. And how many other fish have their own websites?
A fish and wildlife employee was kind enough to show me the contents of a cooler full of these somewhat less than two foot long fish and I’m pretty sure I was the first person in months, if ever, who asked about them.
So, just what is a pikeminnow? Ptychocheilus oregonensis is a dull, silvery, non-migratory fish that lives in northwest rivers. Sound exciting? Let me pump it up by telling you the pike minnow doesn’t even have teeth and isn’t related to the more well known and toothier pike.
Apparently pikeminnows suck their prey up and crush them in their throats. The fish and wildlife folks want you to believe the pikeminnow is a voracious predator (especially of endangered salmon babies). They accumulate the toxins from their food and accumulate it in their fatty flesh, hence you shouldn’t eat them. When I requested that Mr. F&W cut open the stomach we could only find a piece of a crawdad inside. “I guess the stomach acid must be pretty strong,” he surmised.
The pikeminnow is probably just a scapegoat for the troubles that dams cause to baby salmon, but I’m not too sure. With a distended-looking belly (no, the one in the drawing is not pregnant) a sad face, and virtually no bright colors, I started to wonder if they were being removed just because they are so darn ugly.