21 Feb 2014

Fish Culture Hall of Fame—Orr and Wedemeyer

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On May 11, 2013, Mr. Wes Orr and Dr. Gary Wedemeyer were inducted into the Fish Culture Hall of Fame at the beautiful DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in Spearfish SD.  The Hall of Fame, housed in a beautifully restored Ice House, was established in 1985 and currently honors 53 individuals for their contributions to fish culture.   Most fish culturists recognize many of the inductees’ names, and beam with pride when they see plaques bearing the names of those they know by reputation, as instructors, or simply as friends.  For me, I’m privileged to know folks like Bob Piper, Charlie Smith, and Laurie Fowler.  Each is considered a pioneer in the field of fish culture, as are Wes and Gary; they are legends, and are worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other legends of the fish culture profession.

wes orr holding hall of fame plaque Wes Orr holding up the real Hall of Fame plaque Wes w-Latoka Bass 7-08I think it’s fair to say that we all aspire to make a difference, whether at home, in the community, or at work.  Wes and Gary spent their careers doing things that made a difference, and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do so.  I met Wes and Gary in the early 1990s when both were instructors for the USFWS Coldwater Fish Culture Course.  I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the instructors for this course—Bob Piper, Charlie Smith, Laurie Fowler, Wes Orr, and Gary Wedemeyer—were all considered difference-makers or game-changers in fish culture and allied fields.  Those who know all or some of these guys think that it’s only fitting that, after spending a lot of time together in their younger years, Wes, Gary, and the others now have a shared legacy in the Fish Culture Hall of Fame.  There is nobody working in fish culture today that doesn’t owe these guys a debt of gratitude –without their pioneering work, none of us would be able to do what we do as successfully and efficiently as we do today.

Wesley H. Orr had a long, productive, and storied career that began when he was 16 years old as a laborer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Spearfish National Fish Hatchery (NFH) and the McNenny NFH.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree in fisheries science from Colorado State University in 1962, and was employed as a fisheries biologist at numerous hatcheries until he found his “home” at the Ennis NFH in Montana in 1973. This is where he resided as Manager for 27 years before retiring in 2000.  It was in Ennis that he truly left his mark on the art and science of fish culture by revolutionizing Rainbow Trout broodstock, husbandry, and production practices.  Wes changed the way Rainbow Trout eggs were collected, fertilized, and distributed, and redefined the strategies for establishing and maintaining a high-yield rainbow trout broodstock program.  While at Ennis, he developed a program that provided over 30 million Rainbow Trout eggs per year to hatcheries, management, and recreational fishing programs throughout the country.  During his tenure, he was responsible for shipping a staggering 438,780,605 eggs and 1,331,152 pounds of fish from six different strains of Rainbow Trout to over 30 different states and countries.  Wes developed spawning protocols to reduce inbreeding and maintain the genetic integrity of the different strains of Rainbow Trout held at the Ennis NFH.  He was a leader in the use of genetic techniques in broodstock management, and led a team that developed specific breeding plans for each strain held on station to reduce inbreeding and maintain genetically appropriate resources for fish production and stocking.  He developed strategies to spawn Rainbow Trout strains from June through February.  At the time, Wes’s contributions put him at the forefront of this particular discipline and more importantly these protocols are still used today.  For more than a century Rainbow Trout have been the most widely cultured fish in North America, and yet in Wes’s career, he showed that there was still more to learn.  In a field that traces most of its forefathers back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, Wes Orr was a modern pioneering figure in fish culture.  His good-natured personality, down-home character, sense of humor, and political savviness opened doors and afforded him countless opportunities to contribute not only to research projects, but to regional and national issues.   Wes has been a member of AFS since 1962 making him a Golden Member; he’s currently a Retired Member and has maintained memberships in the Montana chapter and Fish Culture Dr. Gary Wedemeyer is internationally known for his important work in a number of fields, most notably in fish stress physiology.  During a long and productive career, his research produced more than 100 scientific publications, many of which have become seminal references in the field.  In addition to his research, Gary is well known for his teaching, worldwide scientific collaboration, and great willingness to assist others.  These attributes have made his a familiar name in the fisheries sciences and, especially, in the fields of fish health and fish physiology.  After receiving his Ph.D. in 1965 from the University of Washington, School of Fisheries, Gary joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Fish-Pesticide Laboratory in Denver, Colorado to conduct research on the chemistry and metabolism of pesticides in aquatic ecosystems before moving on to the USFWS Western Fish Disease Laboratory (currently the U. S. Geological Survey Western Fisheries Research Center) in Seattle, Washington.  It was at this Center where he began research on stress physiology which formed the basis for a long and highly productive career.  This pioneering research led to highly cited publications in the areas of blood chemistry, sampling methodology, ozone disinfection, crowding stress, physiology, smoltification, selenium toxicity, and fish culture.  Colleagues note that Gary’s most significant contribution to fish culture was to bring about a greater understanding of the hatchery rearing environment and its effects on the initiation of fish diseases.  Besides Gary’s substantial contribution to the scientific peer-reviewed literature, his research and familiarity with the field resulted in authorship of important chapters in books on fish culture or fish physiology, two highly influential books including “The Role of Environmental Stress in Fish Disease” (1976) and “Physiology of Fish in Intensive Culture Systems” (1996), as well as the Senior Editorship of the Second Edition of the well-known and widely-used fish culture reference “Fish Hatchery Management” (2001).  Gary formally retired in 1998, but he maintains Senior Scientist Emeritus status and his Curriculum Vita continues to grow.  He considered the series of articles he wrote for the Encyclopedia of Aquaculture edited by Bob Stickney to be his final contribution to fish culture, but many thought of them as the most recent addition to a lasting legacy.  Gary has been a member of AFS since 1970 and is a Life Member, maintaining memberships in the Fish Health, Fish Culture, Fish History, and Physiology Sections. 

It’s interesting to note that in spite of the fact that Wes and Gary have accomplished so much and have been received so many accolades, both stated that being inducted into the Fish Culture Hall of Fame was one of the highlights of their lives.


It’s an honor and privilege to be able to induct two worthy gentlemen, Mr. Wes Orr and Dr. Gary Wedemeyer, into the Fish Culture Hall of Fame at the beautiful DC Booth Historic National FH in Spearfish SD.  The HoF was established in 1985 and there are currently 53 individuals who have been inducted since, and their plaques hang in the beautifully restored Ice House.  I recognize many of the names of those that have been inducted, and am privileged to know a handful and be able to call them my friends – folks like Bob Piper, Charlie Smith, and Laurie Fowler.  Each of these guys is considered a pioneer in the field of fish culture, but we often refer to them as legendary.  Wes and Gary are also considered pioneers in fish culture, and they are worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other legends of our profession.

I think we all aspire to make a difference, whether at home, in the community, or at work.  I think those of us fortunate enough to work in a field where they can make a difference often strive to do just that…make a difference.  Wes and Gary spent their careers doing things that made a difference.  I’m going to venture a guess that there are others out there that have spent a career working to make a difference and are worthy of consideration to be nominated for induction into something like the FC HoF.  But they’re not being honored here today…and Wes and Gary are.  What is it that sets these two guys apart from others?

I’m going to try to answer that question, but I’m going to take the long route to get there.  In 2012, the USFWS was responsible for hosting the 63rd Annual Northwest Fish Culture Conference in Portland OR.  The host agency is responsible for nominated a few of their retired employees for consideration for induction into the NWFCC HoF.  I was on the HoF committee along with my good friend Larry Telles, and we started kicking names around to nominate.  We nominated Wes, Gary, and Joe Banks (who was inducted into the FC HoF in2006).  I spent quite a bit of time putting their bios together and got a first-hand look at what they contributed to this scientific discipline…and it’s pretty impressive.  I wrote a lengthy nomination and asked others to provide letters of support.  These documents will be on the FCS website, and I encourage you to visit our website and read these documents to get a better idea of who these guys are and what they did.  They certainly contributed, but they also brought something else to the table.  Both are great people with good interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and an affinity for teaching others.  These interpersonal skills along with their substantial contributions made it an easy sell to get them inducted into the FC HoF.

I met Wes in 1994 and Gary in 1995.  Both were instructors for the USFWS CWFCC held in Bozeman.  I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the instructors, Bob Piper, Charlie Smith, Laurie Fowler, Wes Orr, and Gary Wedemeyer are all considered legends in our field.  So, it’s only fitting that these guys who spent a lot of time together in their younger years will now have a shared legacy in the FC HoF.  There is nobody working in Fish Culture today that doesn’t owe these guys a debt of gratitude – because without their pioneering work none of us would be able to do what we do today.

Let’s get on with getting these guys induct.  I’m going to say a few words about Wes and officially induct him into the HoF, and then I’ll do the same for Gary.

I met Wes shortly after moving to Bozeman Oct 1994.  I was asked if I wanted to attend the NWFCC in Bend OR in December, and that if I did……..if you know Wes, then you know what I’m talking about when I mention Kent State and Wes in the same sentence, or about guarding a prison in Ohio…..there’s more to Wes than meets the eye.  Over the years, I realized there was much more.  I’d call Wes, and for those of you who know me, would instantly jump into the purpose of my call.  Wes would say “slow down Bowker; let’s visit for a while first”.  So we’d talk and I’d ask him about hunting and fish, how his knee was doing, and if he was driving his wife Diane crazy.  Then we’d get down to business and he was always accommodating.  There is also Wes’s sense of humor, but I’ll let him tell you the stories, and there are many.  Ask him about the surprise gift he gave to the Little White Salmon Hatchery Project Leader (Speros Dulos) – it’s a dozy.

Read Wes’s bio and officially induct him into the FC HoF.

Gary Wedemeyer was unable to attend the ceremony because his wife is having some health issues.  In spite of the fact that Gary has received some notable awards such as the SF Snieszko Distinguished Service Award and the DOI Meritorious Award, he is disappointed that he can’t be here for this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.  It’s a testament to the type of person Gary is when his friends and colleagues offered to help out in any way so that he could come East for this ceremony.

I met Gary at the CWFCC in 1995 where he lectured on fish physiology particularly stress physiology.  Right off the bat, it was pretty clear that we were listening to a guy who didn’t learn this stuff from a book, but rather that he wrote the book.  Gary is a natural-born teacher, and it’s not surprising to know that his first job after college was as a teacher.  But Gary had a greater calling…to work in fisheries and he took advantage of the USFWS offer to pay for a graduate degree if upon graduation, you worked for the Agency.  Upon getting his PhD, he got a job with the FWS and eventually landed at the Western Fisheries Sciences Center in Seattle.  Before I read from Gary’s plaque, I would like to tell a story that shed’s a little light on Gary.  As I mentioned, I was there when he was inducted into the NWFCC HoF.  His sponsor was Charlie Smith who introduced Gary in a way only a good friend can.  When it was Gary’s turn to talk he said something that I’ve probably repeated 50 times since.  He said “Bowker thinks that inducting us into the NFWCC HoF is only to make us three old guys happy, but it’s more than that.  It’s an opportunity to connect the past with the present.”  When Wes and Gary finally hang up their waders and lab coats, a total of 80 – 90 yrs of experience will be walking out the door.  How can you replace that experience?  You can’t.  All you can do is spend time with guys like this and try to learn from them.  The only way our profession is going to move forward is to use what has been learned in the past to help guide us.  What Gary said next was even more profound.  He challenged the present to connect with the future because the future generation will by trying to tackle issues that we can’t even imagine today.  Everything is connected…the past, the present, and the future.

Read Gary’s bio and officially induct him to the FC HoF.

Lastly – I know first-hand the time and effort that is required to nominate somebody for awards and induction into various Halls of Fame…and it does take time.  But I encourage everybody to make the time and expend the effort to recognize those worthy of recognition.  It was my honor to nominate Wes and Gary into the FC HoF, and they have thanked me many times for doing so.  To them I say, “No, thank you for all you’ve done and for allowing me to help you get inducted into a place you rightly deserve to be”.