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MADISON - George C. Becker's "Fishes of Wisconsin" is the first comprehensive survey of the state's fish species and the environmental challenges they face. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1983, it remains the seminal reference to 157 fish species found in Wisconsin, many which are also found throughout much of the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River basins.
Becker's approach to documenting both the fish species and the management of fish ecosystems was a model for others; "American Zoologist" magazine called it one of the best books of its kind ever written.
Recently, rather than reprinting the 1,064-page book, Wisconsin's Water Library, the University of Wisconsin Press, and University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries Digital Collections collaborated to digitize the book and make it freely available online: digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/EcoNatRes.FishesWI.
Becker was professor of biology and curator of fishes at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. A native German speaker from Milwaukee, he began his academic career with a master's degree in Germanic philology and a job teaching high school Latin and modern languages in Port Edwards, Wis.
In a September 2000 interview, shortly before his death in 2002, Becker said he had intended to keep his love for the natural world separate from his vocation. But that changed when he met Aldo Leopold.
"That was a wrenching experience," Becker recalled of his realization that he'd have to change careers. In the mid 1950s, he left his position as a high school principal and earned master's degrees in zoology and botany, followed by a Ph.D. in ichthyology from UW-Madison. During a course with the prominent limnologist Arthur Hasler, he was surprised to find the only overview of Wisconsin fish was a thin book about 100 pages long.
"And that was all! For the state of Wisconsin!" he said. "And that's where the idea for 'Fishes of Wisconsin' was born."
Becker began collecting specimens in 1958, the summer after he started teaching biology at UW-Stevens Point. His wife Sylvia, and three sons, Kenneth, Dale and David, all participated in the field work, as did hundreds of ichthyology students. Together, over the course of 18 years, they collected more than 250,000 fish specimens.
Becker spent the next six years writing, editing, and drawing illustrations. "Fishes of Wisconsin" was published in 1983 by UW Press with support from the UW Sea Grant Institute.
A helpful companion resource, "Wisconsin Fishes 2000" by John Lyons, Philip A. Cochran and Don Fago, is available from the UW Aquatic Sciences Publications Store at www.aqua.wisc.edu/publications. This publication updates the information in "Fishes of Wisconsin" on the occurrence, taxonomic status, distribution, and abundance of fishes in Wisconsin.
Also available free online is the Wisconsin Fish Identification Database at www.wiscfish.org/fishid. Produced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the UW Center for Limnology, and UW Sea Grant, the site features more than 4,000 photos covering all 162 native Wisconsin species and 12 invasive species that have taken up residence in the state's waters. It also includes a taxonomic key, an illustrated guide to fish anatomy, and an illustrated glossary.
More free digital materials related to ecology and natural resources in the UW Digital Collections can be found at digicoll.library.wisc.edu/EcoNatRes.
Information on other UW Press books about fish and fishing can be found at www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress; enter "fish" in the "Search" box.