Puget Sound Coastal Cutthroat Campaign

Despite being one of the most widely distributed salmonids along the Pacific coast, the Coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii) is one of the least scientifically understood fish across their Pacific range.

Coastal cutthroat trout (CCT) are native only to North America, and their native territory spans from northern California to south-central Alaska. These wild fish have fascinating life history strategies where they frequently enter and exit fresh and saltwater, and rarely travel more than 150 km in the ocean from land.

Over the past several decades CCT have experienced a major decline in population numbers range-wide (from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska to the Eel River in California). While CCT have been considered for threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in the past, presently no populations are currently listed or being reviewed for protected status. In 2008, a comprehensive review of CCT evaluated their status in Washington, Oregon and California waters, which found declines in some regions, stable populations in others, and increasing trends in still others. However, present data on CCT has been identified as too limited to determine the status and trends of most populations, and the Coastal Cutthroat Trout Interagency Committee recommends monitoring as a priority objective for future research.

In our project, we are working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to understand the run timing, location and abundance of spawning of CCT in South Puget Sound, WA so they can accurately describe the population status of CCT across their native range.

Until a current population assessment of CCT is available across their native range, evaluating management goals is difficult and advocacy efforts to protect and conserve the species are limited by anecdotal or biased data. The goal of our project is to better inform management decisions with objective empirical evidence, and provide a tool that can be consistently and cost effectively used to evaluate the status of CCT across their native range.

In other Pacific salmonid species where population assessments are available, fish managers and advocacy organizations can empirically review a population’s status and trends to determine whether populations are healthy. This information can also help to identify major causes of decline across their range, which can then be used to inform sport-fishing regulations, prioritize habitat protection and restoration, and evaluate whether further protection of the species is warranted under the Endangered Species Act.

In order to track the run timing and spawning distribution of CCT in the South Sound, NFS River Stewards and WDFW personnel will utilize beach seine equipment to collect and mark CCT with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT Tags). Tagged CCT moving into previously identified South Sound tributaries will be recorded by directional detection systems, which captures their upstream and downstream migration, and will be correlated with ongoing studies of redd counts and snorkel surveys that will contribute to an abundance estimate.

Project Partners

  • Native Fish Society
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Sol Duc Foundation
  • Patagonia World Trout Foundation

Project Supporters

  • Squaxin Island Tribe
  • Lower Columbia Fly Fishers
  • Puget Sound Fly Fishers
  • South Sound Fly Fishers
  • International Federation of Fly Fishers
  • Peninsula Outfitters
  • Dalton Art Studios
  • The Roving Dears
  • Puget Sound Fly Co.
  • Northwest Fly Anglers

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