WEB BONUS: Stocking trout

By on May 3, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Why not just stock Yellowstone Lake with cutthroat trout in order to help their population rather than remove lake trout? That question was posed to Chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources Dave Hallac, who said stocking is usually something best avoided.

“We looked at everything including propagation. In general, managers try to avoid that if possible,” Hallac said.

Park managers stocked Yellowstone Lake for years with black-spotted cutthroat, or what is known today as the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. But subtraction through addition is a slippery slope where wildlife managers often find out the introduction of a species – even a native one – can have unforeseen and unintended consequences.

At the Jackson National Fish Hatchery, manager Kerry Grande said he his hatchery mainly does mitigation stocking – putting extra cutthroat trout into spawning areas that are no longer naturally accessible to fish because of manmade barriers. Reservoirs like the Palisades are particularly troublesome for fish because they cannot get past the dam.

The local hatchery adjacent to the Elk Refuge is ideally suited for raising fish. Fresh water springs in the area supply disease-free conditions, though Grande noted whirling disease is known to exist in Flat Creek just 40 yards from the hatchery’s water supply. Also, localized warm springs in the area help staff keep the fries warm.

Fine-spotted cutthroat of the Snake River.

Fine-spotted cutthroat of the Snake River.

Grande said the hatchery had used an “Auburn” strain of Snake River cutthroat for decades. The domesticated fish proved to tame to handle conditions in the wild. Since 2005, the hatchery has switched over to the “BarBC” sub-strain. That fished has proved to be hardier if not downright tenacious.

“These guys actually do much better,” Grande said of the BarBC trout, named for the section of Spring Creek they are taken from. “They swim away from us when we walk into the room with them. They don’t like people. And that’s good. And they are tough and tough to catch.”

Grande said the “Auburn” cutthroat were more like sheep. Like the friendlier rainbow trout, they would flock toward the end of the raceway or tank where a human appeared figuring it was feeding time.

Local fishing legend Paul Bruun raved about the BarBC trout, calling them the most aggressive cutthroat around.

“They used to stock the Salt River with that hatchery up there. Then they tried the BarBC strain. They don’t need to stock it anymore,” Bruun said. “Anywhere you put this fish it outcompetes whatever’s already there. It’s a survivor. You put a few of these in Yellowstone Lake and they won’t be talking about a lake trout problem for long.”

Grande said his agency clips the fins of hatchery-reared trout so they are identifiable in the wild. The Snake River cutthroat trout, or fine-spotted cutthroat as it is sometimes known, is not yet an officially-recognized subspecies of cutthroat. There are hopes that the subspecies may one day be recognized as Oncorhynchus clarki behnkei, which would allow the fish to receive federal protection if it is ever deemed endangered or threatened. Currently, the Yellowstone cutthroat is (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) is the only acknowledged subspecies of trout in the region.

Grande said he can tell the two apart in a second.

“I can look at them and I can tell you if they are a Yellowstone cutthroat or a Snake River cutthroat,” Grande said. “It’s the coloration, size of spotting and where the spotting occurs. That salt-and-pepper spotting is the Snake. The Yellowstone would have larger spots more grouped toward the interior part of the fish.”

Grande said his agency has not stocked lake trout in Jackson Lake or any lake since about 1994.

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