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Global Trout

Rainbow trout and human made environmental change.

Image may contain: Water resources, Waterway, Water, Bank, Rural area.

Fish farm in Underberg, South Africa: Rainbow traut is raised both for food and recreational fishing. Photo: Knut Nustad

This interdisciplinary project investigates how the humanities and social sciences can contribute to new modes of conservation and environmental management that are responsive to the complex histories and politics of species introductions. It does so by asking a methodological question about how to study "global" environmental problems that unfold in highly diverse ways in different places. The project probes these large questions through the case of introduced trout.

Originally located only on the North American West Coast, rainbow trout are now one of the world’s most widespread fish, found in more than 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. From the late 19th century onward, European colonists, typically British men, translocated vast numbers of trout and salmon as they remade rivers to support fly-fishing, a hobby they associated with upper-class culture. Other groups – including the Japanese government – were inspired by these efforts to "improve" freshwater fisheries by planting such fish.

Man, seen from behind, fly-fishing. Photo: Peter Christensen
Rainbow and brown trout, prized by fly-fisherpeople, were both introduced to New Zealand in the late 19th century. Photo: Peter Christensen

Rainbow trout often thrived in new places yet, in doing so, they have generated new social and ecological dilemmas. While often creating new economic opportunities by attracting fly fishing enthusiasts, trout have also driven out other species, altered nutrient regimes in aquatic ecosystems, sparked new property claims, and created complicated debates about environmental management. Because trout travel, thrive, and die through their entanglements with colonial projects, culturally specific and gendered forms of recreation, and diverse notions of ‘nature,’ they cannot be studied exclusively through the lenses of the natural sciences. Rather, they must be studied as social and cultural entities, as well as biological ones.

While non-native trout are a 'global' problem, they have had remarkably different effects in each location where they have come to live. Thus, this project asks how environmental scholars can best attend to the specificities of how a seemingly singular phenomenon (i.e. introduced trout) unfolds differently in various sites. To this end, the project’s scholars (from anthropology, biology, history, literature, and sociology) will collaboratively examine the histories and ongoing effects of introduced trout in a range of sites, including the UK, Japan, South Africa, and Patagonia.

Picture of an old, black-and-white book named "Angling Adventures in South Africa", written by Yates. On the left page there is a picture of a man in a flyfishing costume. Photo: Knut Gunnar Nustad
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, British colonial officials and settlers wrote passionately about the efforts to introduce and acclimate trout species to new parts of the world. Photo: Knut Gunnar Nustad

Emphasising the importance of interdisciplinary thinking, the project gives close scholarly attention both to how human social worlds and river ecologies are affected by fish introductions. Situated within the growing field of "environmental humanities", the project aims to make important contributions to long-standing debates about relations between nature and culture, as well as to more recent questions about how social scientists and humanists might work together with natural scientists in new ways.

While thoroughly interdisciplinary, the project is inspired by contemporary anthropological thinking about globalization, scale, materiality, and history. In turn, the project’s close study of trout and rivers opens up anthropology’s analytical frames by centering landscapes, rather than human-only societies, as conceptual units. Thus, the intended audiences for this research include not only social scientists and humanists (via academic publications in those fields), but also environmental conservation professionals and the general public, who will be reached through articles in conservation journals and fishing magazines, as well as a documentary film.


  • Combine natural and social sciences approaches to explore how humans and other organisms live with material histories of colonialism that cannot be undone.
  • Demonstrate how basic research in the environmental humanities can contribute to the development of management approaches more alert to histories of colonial encounters and global connections.
  • Develop new collaborative methods for studying the specificities of widespread environmental changes and global links.

Via case study of introduced trout:

  • Document trout histories in four project sites: Investigate how trout introductions unfolded, as well as the imaginative and technical processes involved.
  • Investigate effects of trout displacements today: Analyze how introduced trout shape ecologies, economies, and conservation debates.
  • Trace connections among sites historically and at present.


The project is funded with NOK 10.000.000 by the FRIPRO – Researcher Project Grant by the Norwegian Research Council.

Project period

The project will run between September 2019 and August 2023.

Published Mar. 23, 2021 1:48 PM - Last modified Mar. 23, 2021 1:48 PM