Super Fish

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Among the University of Washington's most widely-known developments of all time are the Donaldson Trout and the Donaldson Salmon. These are fish of enhanced size, strength, and rates of growth and reproduction in comparison to their conventional counterparts.

In 1932, as a UW graduate student, Lauren Donaldson began a selective breeding and nutrition program to develop a strain of trout that could attain a large body size in a short period of time and that could produce more eggs than usual. Over the years, his efforts resulted in the successful development of "Super Trout," which have enhanced commercial and sport fisheries the world over.

[Donaldson and "Super Fish"]
Donaldson and "Super Fish"

Trout normally reach sexual maturity in about 4 years and weigh on the order of 1.5 pounds. But the Super Trout, in contrast, matured in 2 years, weighed a whopping 10 pounds, and produced many more eggs than unselected trout.

The Donaldson Trout is now used around the world in commercial aquaculture operations. For example, during one year recently in Finland, some 18,000 metric tons of "Super" rainbow trout were grown in sea cages. Norway produced about the same quantity, and Japan, about 30,000 metric tons. The super fish are also being grown on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.footnote 1

Donaldson served on the faculty of the UW School of Fisheries from 1941 until his retirement in 1973. In 1949, Donaldson created a completely artificial salmon run and spawning ground right at the base of the UW campus by the School of Fisheries on Portage Bay in Seattle. The facility, which is still in use today with fish returning each fall, allowed him to control the spawning environment itself. This effort was the first such experiment in an urban setting where salmon would have to negotiate such obstacles as the Chittenden Locks between Lake Union and Puget Sound.footnote 2

The first group of Chinook salmon to return to the UW's artificial spawning ground after being released in 1949 showed up in November of 1953, like clockwork, four years after they were released. With the return of those fish, the selective salmon breeding program was underway. By 1959, the percentages of fish returning to the UW grounds well exceeded normal, reaching up to 30 times the returns found in natural environments. In the 1995 season, some 3,400 salmon returned, the largest number since 1986.

Donaldson also played a key role in establishing the recreational fishery for Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes region. For several years in the 1960s he annually shipped fertilized Chinook salmon eggs to collaborators at Albion College in Michigan, at the New York Conservation Commission, and at Pennsylvania State University. Salmon hatched from the eggs were introduced into the Great Lakes originally as predators that would reduce the numbers of alewife fish, a member of the herring family.

But the program also led to a new sport fishery in the region, benefiting approximately 10 million anglers today.

  1. Marsha Landolt, Professor and Director, School of Fisheries, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 98195, personal communication. Assistance provided by Dr. Landolt is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. "Super Salmon," Adam Woog, Sexless Oysters and Self-Tipping Hats, Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 1991.

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