At the start of the 20th century, an American named John Wheelock Titcomb was serving as Chief of the Division of Fish Culture in the National Fisheries Bureau. In that role, he was among the world’s most qualified experts on salmonid rearing. At the bequest of the Argentine government, he made the long journey to Buenos Aires and then overland to Patagonia. Upon arriving in the Andean foothills he worked his way steadily north until he reached Lake Nahuel Huapi, in the then newly formed Nahuel Huapi National Park. It was there that he envisioned the foundations of his life’s defining work. At a waterhole he called the Molina spring, Titcomb established Argentina’s first fish hatchery, and eventually introduced salmonids to Patagonia’s cold, flowing waters.
Simply having a vision, however, is a far cry from seeing it materialize. The actual transport of viable trout and salmon eggs from the northern hemisphere to Patagonia was a feat to be reckoned with. Titcomb assigned a colleague Edgar Allen Tulián the daunting task of collecting the heartiest and purest strains of fertilized trout and salmon eggs from points across the US. With the eggs sourced, collected, and secured for travel, Tulián left port in New York on January 19, 1904 bound for Buenos Aires. It would be a months-long journey.
Tulián first made landfall in Southampton, England. Under his care were 7 crates containing 1,000,000 Whitefish embryos (Coregonus cupleaformis); 102,700 Brook Trout embryos (Salvelinus fontinalis); 53,000 Lake Trout embryos (Cristivomer namaycush); and 50,000 Landlocked salmon embryos (Salmo sebago). Upon landfall in England, the eggs were shifted to a British freighter which featured refrigerated cargo space designated for the transport of beef between Argentina and Europe. The ship set a course for Argentina, and after weeks at sea, arrived in Buenos Aires. Under the watchful eye of Tulián, and after further weeks moving overland by rail and horseback the eggs arrived in Patagonia. Throughout this voyage, Tulián had worked tirelessly in the care of his precious cargo, and a testament to his extraordinary stewardship was the small percentage of viable embryos that were lost in transit. On March 4, 1904 those eggs were transferred to the hatchery near Nahuel Huapi lake, and the course of angling history officially and permanently took a turn.
Ironically, the initial introduction of salmonids to Argentina was weighted heavily towards Whitefish, as that species was favored to find greatest reproductive success in Patagonian waters. 900,000 fingerlings resulted from the initial Whitefish incubation, and all were placed in Lake Nahuel Huapi. This introduction, however, proved a failure. Regular monitoring of fish stocks in the lake over a period of years would prove that a viable population of the Whitefish failed to take, or even grow to viable size. Trout and Landlocked salmon, on the other hand, proved a very different story.
The trout and salmon eggs that were initially reared in Titcomb’s distributed through lakes Nahuel Huapi, Traful, Espejo, and Gutiérrez. A second import of 50,000 fertile Steelhead eggs (Salmo gairdneri) and 50,000 Rainbow trout eggs (Trutta iridea) followed in 1904. Unlike the Whitefish, these fish saw instant and widespread success, encouraging both Titcomb and the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture to expand the fish rearing and stocking programs. With that in mind, Tulián embarked on October 19, 1905, for Europe and the United States, to source and ready the shipment of Atlantic salmon eggs (Salmo salar), Brown trout eggs (Salmo trutta fario), and eggs from a smattering of supplemental North American trout and salmon species.
These initial sourcing trips, and subsequent rearing/stocking programs, represent the official origins of salmonids in Argentina. That said, it should be noted here that there are unofficial reports of earlier ‘rogue’ efforts at trout introduction that took place largely in Buenos Aires province. In the early years of the 20th Century, Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, was a hub of the global economy. Rail lines, agriculture exports, timber, and a host of additional natural resources drove the Argentine economy, drawing presence from an associate congregation of international businessmen. Chief among these were British entrepreneurs and capitalists who brought with them to South America a decidedly European sporting appetite. Arguably, the English were the first to introduce trout to Argentina, though not in a manner that was terribly successful. The Hurlingham Club, which was founded in 1888 in the largely English neighborhood of Hurlingham, Buenos Aires, was a social and sporting club that was structured in the model of classic clubs of the UK. The focus of the membership both then and now was a focus on lawn and field sports, trout fishing among them. To support the endeavor, rainbow trout were introduced to nearby Arroyo Morron, but the warm temperatures and lack of aeration and current kept the fishery from supporting any viable population.
Similarly, there is conjecture that several spring creeks in southern Buenos Aires Province were stocked with trout as a means of entertaining expat and traveling British railroad executives, who had similarly cultivated a taste for sportfishing back home. Moreover, the anadromous brown trout of Tierra del Fuego may well have been introduced by independent landowners, some of them European, rather than by government officials, according to the genetic record. Though the sea-run strain of brown trout throughout the southernmost Rio Grande were officially sourced from Denmark, the fish now in the rivers of Tierra del Fuego have genetic markers that lead fisheries biologists back to Scotland, and the sea-trout rivers of the British Isles.