Blue pike, silver pike, walleye: Tracking fishing mystery & words

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It’s a blue pike, but not a “blue pike.”

When Al Silcroft of Libertyville Fishing Club sent contrast-comparison photos from a Canadian trip, I had no idea what road (pike) I was headed down on walleye and northern pike.

In one photo Stew Fishman holds a rare blue-tinted pike; in the other Lou Di Nicola holds one of the big ordinary pike they caught at Little Vermilion Lake after flying out of Red Lake, Ontario.

But “blue pike’’ means something other than blue-tinted northern pike; “blue pike’’ refers to walleye once plentiful, especially in Lake Erie and Ontario.

There’s good reason scientists use Latin for naming flora and fauna. And good reason why scientists check things out.

(NOTE. Added to original column: Di Nicola added another layer and sent a note saying it is a silver phase pike, sometimes referred to as a blue pike, which is a whole another possible column.)

Carol Stepien, Distinguished University Professor of Ecology & Director of the Lake Erie Center, University of Toledo, is the world authority on “blue pike,’’ the walleye.

“There is no such thing as a blue pike (unfortunately),’’ she emailed. “There never was. I genetically tested the original museum specimens, and many many modern-day specimens, and this is just a normal color variant of walleye. Walleye look different from place to place, and from individual to individual just like people do.’’

That would surprise thousands who ate “blue pike’’ for decades.

The Ohio DNR notes that “The blue pike was once a very important sport and food fish in Lake Erie. In the 1950’s the annual commercial catch in Lake Erie ranged from 2-26 million pounds per year. The fishery collapsed in 1959 and they had completely disappeared by 1971.’’

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has that “The Government of Canada’s Species at Risk Public Registry notes the last blue pike was caught in 1965. In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the species extinct.’’

Stepien says something stronger.

“The historic `blue pike’ is indistinguishable from walleye, indicating that taxonomic designation is not warranted,’’ is one conclusion that Amanda E Haponski and Stepien reached in “A population genetic window into the past and future of the walleye Sander vitreus: relation to historic walleye and the extinct `blue pike’ S. v. `glaucus’.’’

“I have been working on blue walleye for 17 years and have always hoped we might find a remnant population of blue pike, but it has never happened,’’ emailed Wayne Schaefer, University of Wisconsin–Washington County. “They truly appear to be extinct.’’

Sometimes words fail us.

Solomon David, a research scientist at the Shedd Aquarium who has worked with pike in the Great Lakes, emailed, “[The blue pike in the photo] is just a slight variation on a normal northern pike, likely more stress or environment than even genetic. A northern pike that is bluish shouldn’t be confused with the extinct variant of the walleye, Sander vitreus glaucus, which was found primarily in Lake Erie.

“Hope that helps!’’

It does, sorta.

A check with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry brought a history lesson concluding with, “There is no need to report blue walleye to the MNRF.’’

Final word goes to the world authority.

“No problem, but there is absolutely no reason to waste federal tax dollars to further test every blue walleye, it’s like testing different types of people to make sure they are Homo sapiens,’’ Stepien emailed.

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