It took decades to publish, but landmark Pa. fishes book worth the wait

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It took 32 years to build both the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Washington Monument. And it took 32 years for Penn State Distinguished Professor of Ichthyology Jay Stauffer to publish his landmark book, "The Fishes of Pennsylvania."

Go figure.

But, scientists, educators, naturalists and fish enthusiasts probably believe it was worth waiting for. Published by Cichlid Press, the book was released in August.

The large (8 inches by 11 inches), lavishly illustrated, 556-page hardcover tome likely will serve as the definitive reference on Pennsylvania fishes for much, much longer than it took Stauffer to create it. Featuring 575 color fish photos taken by talented nature photographer Rob Criswell and 196 detailed maps showing the ranges of fish species -- all printed on heavy, glossy stock -- the handsome volume has the look, heft and feel of a coffee table book.

But due to its comprehensive and historic nature, it undoubtedly will serve as a textbook, too, according to Stauffer, who has written a dozen other books in his academic career. In any case, he said, "The Fishes of Pennsylvania" is aimed at a mixed audience of researchers, fisheries professionals and sportsmen.

Chapters cover the history of ichthyology in Pennsylvania, the waterways of the commonwealth, the origin of the fish fauna, introduced fishes, conservation efforts, the study of fishes, basic anatomy, characters and methodology for identification, collection techniques, photography, videography, and sport fishing opportunities.

The fishing section is guest-authored by John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who also wrote the book's foreword.

In addition to Criswell's vibrant photography, vivid illustrations by Nevin Welte (Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy) also adorn many pages. Also contributing to the book was co-author Doug Fisher, a former master's degree student advised by Stauffer, who now works for the Fish and Boat Commission.

"When I joined the Penn State faculty in 1984, I decided the state needed a book like this, and I started working on it then. That began many years of collecting fish all over the state, looking at fish specimens at museums and tracking down the identifications. It was pretty much a labor of love," said Stauffer -- who perhaps is best known for his more than 30 years of research involving fishes in vast Lake Malawi in Africa.

"I am pretty happy with the book. It is a huge load off my shoulders to finally get it in print because I have been working with fishes in Pennsylvania for such a long time. But it kept getting delayed as we got more information. Now it's done, and I'm relieved."

In addition to support from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, funding for the "The Fishes of Pennsylvania" came from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, PennDOT, the Wild Resource and Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Over the decades, I was able to pretty much piggyback research for the book on a series of funding contracts we had to collect fishes all over the state, and I had a lot of help from 50 or so former graduate students, who contributed a great deal during their studies," said Stauffer, who earned his bachelor's degree at Cornell and his doctoral degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

"There were many dissertations and theses that came out of this long book effort."

Arway thinks so highly of the book that he arranged to have the Fish and Boat Commission provide the funding to place a copy in every high school in the commonwealth. "It will become the definitive reference for serious students of fisheries science and for the many others who appreciate the value and importance of our fishes," Arway said.

From Stauffer's perspective, getting young people interested in fish and conserving them is where it's at -- what drove him to finally finish the book.

"You certainly don't do a book like this intending to make money on the sales -- we have no expectation of making money. Any royalties that I might get from the book will go into my Penn State account to pay for research," he said.

"The documentation and history of fishes is crucial, as exotic fishes are invading and causing problems throughout our waterways. I think you need a record of what's out there, and I'm hoping that we'll get high school students interested, and maybe they'll go into wildlife and fisheries science. Once kids understand the uniqueness and diversity of fishes, they are more likely to study and conserve them."

For more information or to order a copy of the book, go to info@cichlidpress.com

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Last Updated October 14, 2016