Shocking data shows efforts to protect
Native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout are working

IDAHO FALLS- When you mix 200 volts of electricity with water youÍre setting the stage for some shocking results and that is just what Fisheries biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game found during their recent population surveys on the South Fork of the Snake River.æ Each year, researchers use electrofishing equipment to assess populations near the Conant Valley.æ This is the year theyÍve been waiting for to learn how well the cutthroat population is responding to the efforts to save the famed fishery. æ

In 2004, the IDFG changed fishing regulations on the river to allow unlimited harvest of rainbow trout, while changing cutthroat to all catch-and-release.æ In addition, the department worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to modify flows to benefit cutthroat trout.æ

According to Jim Fredericks, Regional Fishery Manager, the October 2005 surveys are the first time theyÍd be able to gage the effectiveness of the modified flows from Palisades Dam.ææ

And so far, it looks good.æ The cutthroat population was up about 27% from last year.æ Primarily a result of a good year-class of fish produced in 2004.æ After several successive years of poor recruitment, the good production was a welcome sight.æ ñThis is extremely important informationî Fredericks said.æ ñThe Bureau of Reclamation has worked with water users and the fisheries community to implement these experimental flows, and now it looks like those efforts are paying offî.æ

And while cutthroat trout numbers were on the rise, IDFG was equally encouraged to see a decline in the rainbow population.æ There have now been two successive years where the surveys have shown a decrease in the rainbow population.æ In fact, the population is down an estimated 55% since October, 2003.æ Back down from nearly 1,500 fish per mile to 670 fish/mile, which is the lowest itÍs been in 10 years.æ

Though Fredericks believes the 2004 flows may have reduced the number of juvenile rainbow trout produced, he says itÍs primarily the result of anglers giving cutthroat a helping hand by harvesting rainbows.æ ñCertainly itÍs still hard for a lot of anglers to kill wild trout, but I think most people recognize cutthroat are the fish that make the South Fork specialî.æ

Fredericks says that anglers who frequent the river are realizing how much of a difference they can make. ñWhen this began, I think people were skeptical that rainbow harvest would really help the cutthroat populationî he said, ñbut now, I talk to a lot of people who see the change and feel proud theyÍre helping to restore the fishery back to what it wasî.

With Yellowstone cutthroat trout being petitioned for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the improving picture on the South Fork is particularly important.æ In addition to supporting a multi-million dollar fishery, the South Fork is widely regarded as one of the most important populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in their range.æ ñEveryone should see this as good news,î Fredericks said, ñwhether youÍre an angler, an irrigator, or just a resident of eastern Idaho, weÍre all better off if we can protect this valuable populationî.

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