An angler with a sea-run cutthroat trout caught and released in Puget Sound.

Innovative grassroots study helps remove mystery surrounding sea-run cutthroat trout


Recreational fishing community and local conversation group fill the gap of traditional scientific funding of this poorly understood fish

A new study by fishing community volunteers, a local conservation group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on sea-run cutthroat trout was recently released shedding new light about this fish that inhabits coastal and inner-marine waterways of the western United States, including Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

Coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii) are one of seven species of anadromous salmonids in the genus Oncorhynchus. Due to their relatively small size, limited commercial value, and low abundance, the biology of sea-run cutthroat trout isn’t well understood. While not as heavily researched as their cousins the Pacific salmon and steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout), coastal cutthroat trout are popular quarry for anglers in both nearshore marine waters and coastal streams from California to Alaska.

The one-year study titled “Technology-Based Solutions Provide the First Estimate of Sea Lice Infections for Wild Coastal Cutthroat Trout” on the American Fisheries Society website was a grassroots effort that received financial backing and on-the-water support from volunteers in the fishing community and local conservation groups.

Much of that effort was spearheaded by the Coastal Cutthroat Coalition, a Washington-based non-governmental organization, in close coordination with the WDFW.

Photo of a sea-run cutthroat trout with a parasitic species attached to its body known as an argulid and copepod.

The goal of the research was to identify, prioritize, and answer key biological questions necessary to improve an understanding of this unique species of anadromous fish. This also included a way to describe patterns of infection of a unique parasitic species known as an “argulid” that affect sea-run cutthroat trout and the more common copepod “sea lice” parasite that also infects salmon and trout; evaluate the accuracy and dependability of volunteer angler reporting; and to pilot an online data reporting tool.

Sea-run cutthroat trout lack commercial fishing interest and often receive limited scientific attention. This can lead to insufficient data to make informed management decisions and is where the use of angler reported data fills in the gap.

The benefit of involving anglers and conservation partners in fisheries management activities has been well documented ranging from habitat improvements, fish rescue, catch reporting, and others.

An angler prepares to release a sea-run cutthroat back into the depths of a Puget Sound bay. (Photo by Brian Bennett)

According to the Coastal Cutthroat Coalition, recreational fishing for sea-run cutthroat in Washington generates more than 20,000 angler trips and roughly $1.1 million in economic value annually.

As other winter saltwater opportunities become increasingly restricted, anglers have taken notice of this exciting catch-and-release marine area fishery. You can find details on sea-run cutthroat fishing in Puget Sound by going to the WDFW Medium blog webpage.

This study is just one of many that WDFW researchers, biologists, and fishery managers have been leading up in recent years to investigate Puget Sound salmon processes. Visit the links below for a sample of some recent research.

· Competition with odd-year pink salmon in the ocean affects natural populations of chum salmon from Washington

· Correspondence between scale growth, feeding conditions, and survival of adult Chinook salmon returning to Puget Sound and coastal Washington: Implications for forecasting

· Density-dependent marine survival of hatchery-origin Chinook salmon may be associated with pink salmon

· Puget Sound Chum Salmon Growth Linked to Competitor Abundance, Climate Indices, and Copepod Species Richness

· Temporal patterns and ecosystem correlates of chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) migration phenology in the Pacific Northwest

· An 86-year-old fishing club’s records reveal the secrets of Puget Sound salmon



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.