(Lander) – More than two dozen anglers turned out Tuesday night to hear a presentation on a project to “Save The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout,” by Cody resident David Sweet, a past president and current treasurer of Wyoming Trout Unlimited. Last fall, Sweet was recognized by the national Trout Unlimited organization when it presented him the TU Distinguished Service Award for his efforts on Yellowstone Lake and in the Wyoming Council.
“As short as eight years ago, fishermen knew the glory of fishing the Yellowstone, all of us were catching fish,” Sweet told the group. “But even before that, over the last 15 years, the fishery has diminished. Yellowstone Lake was once considered the stronghold of the species and held nearly four million of the brilliantly colored Yellowstone Cutthroat. But today, we really don’t know how many are left. The population certainly is no more than 10 percent of that number, and maybe even five percent. We only have five years left to save this species.”
Why the decline?
“The Day of Infamy, in my mind, was July 30, 1994. That’s the date the first Lake Trout was turned into Yellowstone Park Rangers,” Sweet said. “The Lake Trout are simply eating the Yellowstone Cutthroat into a severe decline.” Not a native species, Lake Trout apparently were introduced into the lake. Exactly how and when they arrived there is not known. The Lake Trout is a predatory species, “and it likes fish flesh,” Sweet said.
To illustrate the severity of the decline of the Yellowstone Cutthroat, Sweet used numbers from the Park’s Clear Creek Weir, placed on a major tributary to the lake that was annually used to determine how many of the trout were spawning in that drainage through 2008. The weir washed out that year. “At it’s peak in 1978, the weir recorded 70,0oo cutthroat heading up stream to spawn. In the last recorded count three years ago that number had declined to 500 fish.
Sweet said Lake Trout are the overwhelming cause of the cutthroat’s decline, but he said other minor factors including an extended drought and whirling disease are contributing factors. “We’ve only found whirling disease in one drainage, Pelican Creek,” he said.
To help recover the cutthroat numbers, Sweet said a number of initiatives have been launched, including an aggressive gill netting program, live trapping of fish and the initiation of a telemetry mapping system, including the use of tagged Lake Trout, to find out where and when the fish spawn. Concurrently, he said research is underway to determine the best way to destroy the eggs of the Lake Trout. “Fortunately, they swarm spawn in huge numbers in a very small space, maybe half the size of this room,” Sweet said. “So it’s critical we find all of the spawning sites.”
The gill and live fish trapping efforts are now costing up to $1-million per year, but Sweet said they are starting to see some results. “Since 1994, we’ve removed 220,000 Lake Trout from Yellowstone and we estimate there are about 300-to 400,000 of them in the lake. I believe that if we can remove one half of the population with these eradication efforts each year, we’ll put the Lake Trout in steep decline. That’s the hope,” Sweet said. “We need to kill off the recruitment and then we can work on restoring the cutthroat trout population.” And Sweet reiterated that time is of the essence. “We only have five years left to get this done,” he said.
The telemetry study is expensive, and Sweet said more tracking implants and receivers around the lake are needed to gain a complete understanding of the Lake Trout’s movements and habits. “Our Wyoming Council goal is to raise $85,000 to purchase the hydroacoustic electronic tags, and so far we’ve gathered about $54,000.” The tracking tags cost $450 each and ones that also measure the depth the fish are swimming, are $750 each. “We need both,” he said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ron Hansen from the Wind River Outdoors Company and the Popo Agie One Stop issued a challenge to anglers and to the community. “I’ll match all local donations up to $2,500,” he said. Donations can be made at the two stores, or through the Popo Agie Anglers.
To learn more about the efforts to Save The Yellowstone Cutthroat, visit or call Trout Unlimited in Lander at 250 N. 1st Street, (307) 332-7700, or go on line to : www.wyomingtu.org.