big fish | UC Davis Magazine
Hogan’s interest in giant freshwater fish began early. After college, he traveled to Thailand on a Fulbright grant to study the impact of dams on migratory fish in the Mekong River. The work became the basis for his doctoral work at UC Davis. In fact, the new book traces his work, including his time as a graduate student at UC Davis.
What’s it like to be so close to a big fish?
A fish that size in fresh water, I can’t describe it, but there’s something inherently special about a fish that size. For me, being in the water is something bigger than myself. It makes me pause, appreciate it, and watch it, more than you would a small fish. They are unusual and easy to appreciate. When I get in the water with someone, I always want to see how they handle me. But I haven’t had any bad experiences with fish. Some people may think that the fish looks scary, ugly or dangerous, but this is not the case. They do not pose a danger to people, in fact it is the opposite. We are the ones who pose a danger to them.
The conservation aspect of your business is also important. What are some of the biggest challenges these fish face?
About 70% of (these huge fish) are at risk of extinction. For the most part, the problems faced by large freshwater fish are the same problems faced by all freshwater fish, namely overfishing, habitat degradation due to pollution, habitat fragmentation due to things like dams, and unsustainable water use. They’re not uncommon problems, but these larger fish tend to be more at risk, because they need more water, more space, live longer, mature later, and are more valuable to the people who catch them. Part of the book’s purpose is to raise awareness about fish so that people will care more about them and be more invested in their protection. One of these large fish – the Chinese oarfish – became extinct while we were working on the book, but the hope is that we can stop the disappearance of other species.
What types of things can be done to stop this?
One of the big things happening in California now and around the world, but especially California and the western United States, is dam removal. And also keeping the rivers clean, which I think we’re doing better overall, I think is important. And just recognizing that these fish are endangered and that they are important. Implementing regulations regarding their crop is certainly the solution. And then I guess I would say generally the most important thing I learned from my research and work on this book: Everywhere these fish do well, there is a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to protect the fish. When I was at UC Davis, I would tell people about my research and about the fish and no one really knew or recognized the names. Now, if you go to school, a lot of kids know the names and some of the basics of some of their biological components. It’s been really fun to see this increase in awareness.
What was the process of writing the book like?
The book was co-written by National Geographic writer Stefan Ludgren, and took 10 years to write. There are a lot of stories about meeting local hunters and scientists, but we told a different story than the ones you get from the show. Stefan has never watched the show. The book aims to tell a more in-depth story than the shows. We talk about the evolution of big fish, some of the policies that affected fish populations, some of the cultural aspects, and we’ve never had the opportunity to go into detail like the ones in the show. And this time, we were also looking for the world’s largest fish.