Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project, Inc.

The Willamette River Steelhead Project
"Frankenfish and Exotic Invaders: Student Research"
March 12, 2001 Update

"Frankenfish" is a name given by some writers and scientists to describe GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) fish, partly because of fears of what these fish might do when released into the environment.  Most GMO ("transgenic" is more accurate) fish are raised on fish farms to produce protein--but others are developed in modern fish hatcheries and released into the environment for recreational fishing.  Sometimes transgenic fish from other countries are released into local environments, as when grass carp were introduced in Devil's Lake, along the Oregon Coast, a few years ago.  Alien species that become established in public waters (breed for successive generations or live long lives without human care), are called exotics.  Many species of exotic fish, other than grass carp, have multiplied in Oregon waters during the past 150 years.

This webpage exists in three parts: The first part is a series of Internet links that help define the meanings and potential problems associated with exotic and transgenic fish populations in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.  The second part is a series of real-life problems that can be addressed by affected K-12 students and other local residents.  Part three is "Teachers' Notes"; a series of suggestions regarding teaching ideas and archiving strategies that may prove useful.

Potential Transgenic &/or Exotic Fish Problems

At least three major potential problems can exist when transgenic or exotic fish are released into the environment: such fish compete with threatened, endangered, and other native fishes for available food, oxygen, temperature, and spatial resources ("competition for resources"); such fish may eat favored local species ("predatory relationships"); and sterilized males may out-compete native males for native females, thereby resulting in sterile eggs and ultimate extinction ("Trojan gene hypothesis").

The following selection of links is intended to guide students toward the types of information they find of most interest or use.  The links are also useful for researching portions of "Student Problems."

1.  Resources Competition.

2.  Predators.

3.  Sterile Males.

Student Problems (2001)

The following problems are intended to be addressed by K-12 and college-aged students, particularly those who live or attend schools in Oregon or within the Columbia River basin.  Questions are arranged by theme and are directly related to current environmental sciences and resources management problems.  A portion of each answer is also related to the presence of transgenic and exotic fish in the environment, particularly how they might relate to local anadromous fish populations.

1) laws and economics,
2) drought and global warming,
3) endangered species management,
4) polluted rivers remediation.

Students, teachers, and other interested parties are encouraged to submit additional problems and questions.  Editorial comment is also welcome.  The clearer and more comprehensive the problems and questions can be stated, the better.  Please use the "Pagemaster" link at the bottom of the page to submit suggestions, editorial comments, and questions.

A.  Laws and Economics.  You have 500 baby trout to release from your hatchery and you have three rivers (and their tributaries), 14 lakes, a reservoir, and a pond in your County in which to release them.  Only a portion of these bodies of water are in your School District, and maybe none within your own school's boundaries. You know the species (Rainbow), but not the parentage of the fish.  Maybe they are GMO trout, or came from brood stock from another state.

(1) Do any laws or binding agreements exist as to when and/or where the fish might (and might not) be released?  How can you find out?

(2) Could it be worthwhile to raise the fish larger and sell them to a commercial fishing pond or a restaurant?  How much food and electricity is needed to raise the fish to a commercial size?

(3) Does the parentage of the fish influence your decision of what to do with the fish?  Why or why not?

B.  Drought and Global Warming.  You live in a community that is undergoing a major drought.  Some people believe it is part of a long-term pattern of global warming.  An endangered anadromous fish breeds and matures in your community's streams.  The drought is making your local streams lower and warmer than at any time in your memory.  The situation has gotten so desperate you hear stories that grass carp are pulling vegetation from the ground alongside lakes and ponds, and that the sexes of unborn fish are being established by record warm water temperatures.

(1)  Should GMO trout be released into waters where they compete with local anadromous fish?  Or even with native non-game resident fish?

(2)  Should attempts be made to chill the shallowing, warming waters to a level that is tolerable to local endangered species?  Or is "survival of the fittest" a better option--i.e., let "nature takes its course"?

3)  Should the lowered waters be seen as an opportunity to help control local transgenic and exotic fish populations?

C.  Endangered Species Management.  There are endangered anadromous fish and a threatened resident painted turtle populations that live in your community.  The habitat of these populations is being used by dozens of exotic fish species and by several colonies of giant bullfrogs.  The turtles live in ponds that are regularly stocked with transgenic trout and warmwater gamefish.  It is believed that grass carp have escaped into the local rivers.

(1)  Should an attempt be made to reduce the populations of introduced species that may be competing with (or even eating) endangered fish, fish eggs, baby turtles, and/or turtle eggs?

(2)  Should endangered animals be moved to other, less hostile, locations?  Should endangered turtles be put into a zoo, where their numbers can be increased with less risk?

(3)  If someone captured a baby grass carp in the Columbia River, would that be big news?  Is it easier to capture grass carp with a net or a rod and reel?  Can adult grass carp be electroshocked?

D.  Polluted Rivers Remediation.  Poisons and hazardous materials exist in the lakes and rivers of your community.  The situation is so bad that the US government has rated your downtown river and harbor as a toxic "Superfund" site.  Although more than 80% of the river bottom has been changed from fish habitat to dredged shipping lane, the remaining habitat is so poisonous that people who eat the fish can get cancer or have deformed children.  Even the shipping lanes are filled with herbicides and dangerous metals from upstream farming and manufacturing activities.

(1)  Should the polluting industries be forced to relocate and the river turned back to pools and shallows?  Is it better for fish to have condominiums or to have shipyards along the riverbank?

(2)  Are Steelhead caught in these waters unsafe to eat?  How about Bass?  Should people be paid to remove toxic and exotic fish from the environment?

(3)  Do GMO or exotic fish exist that can have a positive effect on improving the environment?  How about crass carp?  How might grass carp compete with steelhead?  Could they graze on polluted vegetation and then be removed from the environment as a way to clean sediment?

Teachers' Notes

These student problems exist in real-life for Northwest school children at this time.  If the questions are framed correctly, these problems can be carefully studied and ultimately resolved by local children, young adults, their peers, and other residents.  To submit additional problems, questions, comments, notes, etc., to this webpage, please use the "Pagemaster" link at the bottom of the page.  Corrections, comments, and suggestions are welcomed.

Add Problems.  The student research problems on this webpage have three common themes: 1) current environmental science problems, predications, and opportunities in Portland, Oregon,  2) the relationship of Willamette Steelhead to local GMO and/or exotic species, and 3) they can be geared to several levels of K-12 students, as well as College students and young professionals. .Interested readers are asked to submit additional problems (with questions) that use these three themes and that are complementary to this first set.. 

Add Questions.  Re-wording and adding to the existing questions can add depth and clarity to considering the problems.  Readers are asked for more and better worded questions.

Archive Data.  Information developed through these projects has likely scientific and resource management value, if properly gathered and documented.  How can student and community resources data be safely stored and easily accessed?  Readers and sponsors with an interest in this problem are asked to provide opinions and resources.

Community  Education.  The problems presented on this webpage are only slight exaggerations of management problems currently facing Multnomah County resource managers.  How can current and archived scientific data best be distributed to local families and landowners?  How can it best be integrated into resource management decision making processes?  What job and entrepreneurial opportunities exist because of these problems?  How can Internet be used to archive data and share information?

Experiences & Knowledge. Experiences of teachers and students--and the knowledge gained through those experiences--can be very helpful to others.  Experiences directly related to the ideas and problems described on this webpage are of particular interest.  Relevant knowledge gained through similar experiences is also of interest.

Suggestions, Comments, or Problems concerning this Page? Please contact the PageMaster
This page created March 12, 2001.
©2001,  Oregon Websites and Watersheds Projects, Inc.