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February 22, 2005

Fishes of Iraq: Aspius Vorax

No, American soldiers in Iraq don't spend all of their time bird watching. They also fish.

Plus, there's the whole building democracy in the face of terror thing. That takes up some time as well, I'm given to understand.

That's SPC Mauro above. He's holding what is essentially a great big minnow. More on that in a minute. Here's the story on how it was caught, courtesy of our Iraqi avifaunalist, LTC Bob.

You’ve also seen all the lakes around here. They aren’t that deep really, probably 6-8 feet at the most. There is a pump station somewhere that pumps water from the Tigris into the canal system. There are lots of birds and stuff to look at – gulls, coots, cormorants, a neat blue kingfisher. Lots of the boys are always trying to fish as well.

I had never seen anyone catch anything, not even the big fat carp, until this afternoon. I was out on the back deck doing some dips and some easy weights, when SPC Mauro, who was casting a little jig from our back deck, says – “SIR – GET THE NET!!”

I did. And I broke the net getting his fish up onto the deck. It is some kind of bass, looks like to me. Has a mouth like a bass, and the smell of a bass. Definitely not a carp. And a pretty good sized fish too. We took pictures and put her back. Mauro was happy, as you can see.

LTC Bob sent the picture off to an army ichthyologist he knew....yes, the army needs ichthyologists, don't be so provincial. Some of them work here, in fact, including the one who knew a guy who knew the guy who eventually identified the fish.

I did a little more checking around, and am positive the fish was Aspius vorax; the other members of the genus have larger scales, A. vorax has 93-105 (A. aspius from Europe has 64-76 lateral-line scales; the fish in the photo has about 95). The common name for this fish is "shelej, shalaj, sholge, or sholgeh." They should also have a weak knob at the tip of the lower jaw that fits into a notch in the upper jaw (the photo doesn't show that, but it's not a good angle). They're apparently commercially fished in some areas.

There's an ichthyologist after my own heart. How many people do you think have the patience to count one line of fish scales from head to tail? From a photo, no less, not even a real fish, though admittedly, the original is a fair bit bigger than the one above. As with many of the Birds of Iraq, there's not a lot known about A. vorax, which is why specimens are desperately desired.

If you can keep a fish or two, we'd love to have the skeletons for study- just fillet them like you were going to cook them (a spoon works great for scraping any remaining flesh off of the bones), then gut them (leave the gills in place), carefully pull the eyes out, dry the carcass with a rag, and either pack them in table salt or put them in a container with rubbing alcohol for a couple of days. They can be shipped in salt, but you would probably want to drain off alcohol before shipping.

There's something for the Post Office to look forward to.

The best resource on the net for Aspius vorax prior to the Iraqi campaign was one run by a Canadian Ichthyologist, [have a fish beer, eh?--ed] who was eventually pulled in to verify the id of SPC Mauro's fish. It's a member of the Cyprinidae family, the parent family of minnows and carp. Prior to the war, about the best representation of the species was this one, based on an over 100-year-old sketch. Now, as the waters around the Al Faw palace are apparently full of them, they're popping up all over the place.

One even appears to have taken first prize what has got to be a fairly rare event in Iraq, even in the Green Zone, a fishing tournament.

To hearken back to one of our earliest themes; You'll know we'll have won the War On Terror when ESPN presents "Fishing Al-Faw with Bill Dance."

Update: Given the obviously limited time they have, it strikes me that a solunar table might come in handy for a fisherman in Iraq. Here's a pdf version of one for March 2005, calibrated for the waters around Baghdad.

And, alluding to avifaunalists, the blogger behind Birding Babylon is back.

Posted by Bigwig at February 22, 2005 12:27 PM | TrackBack
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...How many people do you think have the patience to count one line of fish scales from head to tail?

Oh, I dunno. I guess the number roughly resembles the number of guys who have caught their limit by 11:13 AM, and who would have to go home if they can't find anything else to do.

But what about the larger question: how long before this story is seized on by the enviro whacko antiwar left? You can almost see the headlines on "U.S. Forces R@pe Environment of Iraq, Torture Icthyological Citizens by Plucking Out Their Eyes, and Otherwise Bother Fish."

Posted by: Blackavar at February 22, 2005 01:23 PM

Saddam was big on water projects in the vicinity of his "palaces." We have several on our FOB, likewise fed from the Tigris.

You could throw a spear at 36 inch behemoths that float around on the top of the water of several of our reflecting pools and lakes. We're now the third unit cycling through, and there are many fishing poles stocked in the living areas next to water.

Many of the soldiers intend to fish, but strictly catch and release, although I'm told the local nationals are really glad to get them ...

Posted by: dadmanly at February 22, 2005 02:37 PM


Posted by: William Teach at February 22, 2005 03:18 PM

You sure there weren't any NBC evidence inside that fish?

Posted by: Jack Lillywhite at February 23, 2005 07:50 AM

Allenberry Resort Museum , Allenberry Pa . Studies of Trout scales indicate scale patterns near the tail show a genetic source for this section of the Yellow Breeches Creek ......Pictures available from the Museum .....Enjoy...

Posted by: James E. Lee at February 23, 2005 09:32 AM

Nice catch!!! After being deployed for 7 months and with a fish count of 85, I can finally rest knowing the name of this particulary fish...LMAO!! P.S. Carpzilla still hasn't been caught.

Posted by: Chief at March 18, 2005 04:08 AM

Can anyone give me some information on what kind of bait or lures one would need to fish in Iraq? Some of my friends are stationed near the Tigris and they intend to fish.

Posted by: Jon Doleac at March 22, 2005 09:40 PM

For fishing in the Baghdad area, use in-line spinners such as mepps #5's. Silver blades seem to work the best. Good Luck

Posted by: Rick at April 10, 2005 02:01 AM

I caught one of these A. Voraxes last evening on a blue and silver Bill Dance Excalibur Fat Fry. I had tried the green and red Bomber -1 that came in my Bass members kit this year with no luck, large size Zara spook, black spinner bait from my Bass kit, and a number of worm combos including the deadly red shad w/green flake with rattle and red hook. I noticed a number of little grey colored lizards running around the bank and think they may be the next thing I try once I can get some sent to me.

Posted by: Lewis Doyle at May 1, 2005 06:28 AM

thanks for the info on this fish. i catch them in tallil, on a white jig, a bleeding shad rattle trap or spinners as discribed here.

Posted by: nelson spafford at May 5, 2005 11:08 AM
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