Sunday, July 12, 2015

Native, Wild or Hatchery? Why does the lineage of a trout matter?

Yellowstone National Park has embarked on an aquatic management program that emphasizes restoring and maintaining native species.  This decision has come, as all government decisions do, with  plenty of detractors.  What has surprised me is the number of anglers that have come out against this management approach.  The suppression of lake trout in Yellowstone lake in order to try and save the lake's once enormous population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the  removal of introduced nonnatives in order to restore Westslope cutthroat trout have both been attacked by the very anglers whose sport would benefit most from these actions.  I hope you can imagine my surprise.

Yellowstone Cuttroat Trout - Upper Slough River
Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo from Hatch Magazine-
For all of our knowledge on the life stages of aquatic invertebrates and our ability to look at surface waters and understand the structure beneath and what it means for trout, I'm struck by how many anglers seem to overlook the differences between the species of trout that tug at the end of their line.  Was the trout raised in a hatchery and dumped into the water from the back of a truck?  Is the leaping beauty the wild offspring of a stock that has lived in the stream for many generations?  Or, is the speckled trout a reflection of its surroundings having evolved in the waters from which it became prey to the anglers craft?

Stocked, wild, or native?  These are labels that carry with them tremendous ecological distinctions.  Generally speaking stocked and wild trout come from other watersheds at the least, and, at the greatest geographic extent, other continents.  But native trout  have evolved in those waters were they are caught and are an integral part of a foodweb that has evolved over millennia.  This is where ecology begins to unravel when discussing the lineage of trout and the need for native trout conservation begins.

In watersheds throughout the United States native trout continue to lose ground. Trout Unlimited's recent State of the Trout report vividly presents the precarious position of native trout throughout the country.  Give this a moment of thought as you identify the next trout you catch and ask yourself whether it is a native, wild, or stocked specimen.  We are living through the sixth great extinction of the Earth's history and it's not done yet.  The cumulative threats to native trout may cost us our single greatest asset to the sport of fly fishing.

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly

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