WIFFC Briefed on the Latest Coastal Cutthroat Research
We had quite a good turnout for last night's club meeting. At least a dozen of us were on hand to hear Greg Shemik, Executive Director of the Coastal Cutthroat Coalition (CCC), introduce his organization and present the results of the latest research on Coastal Cutthroat (the sea-run form) genetics, spawning, and migration. CCC and others have worked with WDFW for several years in the far south Puget Sound to gather the data that yielded these results. Click this link to watch a similar version of Greg's presentation (made to North Sound Trout Unlimited). If you're really interested in Coastal Cutthroat it's worth your time. If you're just interested in an overview, here are the points I took away from the research.
1) There are four Coastal Cutthroat life forms, based on where they spend their lives: small streams, large streams, lakes, salt water. The research presented was for the salt water form (sea-run cutthroat).
2) The populations of cutthroat associated with the three streams studied are genetically distinct, and individual fish faithfully return to their natal streams to spawn.
3) Spawning is protracted and the peak spawning period quite variable from year to year--so much so that in some years significant numbers of spawning fish may still be in streams at the time of the opening of the stream fishing season. This may have an impact on the overall sea-run population.
4) Once in the salt water, individual fish establish what may be called "home beaches" and spend a high percentage of their time within seven miles of that beach. Only during the height of summer do fish tend to wander farther from their home beach.
5) The presence of "home beaches" means that regular fishing success at an angler's favorite beach is less the result of high fish populations and more the result of catching the same fish repeatedly.
6) Sea-run populations have declined significantly in recent years. Sea-runs today spawn fewer times during the course of their lives than they used to. Reasons are unknown.
7) Sea-runs are weak following spawning, and catching them at that time (think Chum salmon fry time) may make them more susceptible to predation. Still, the variability of spawning time makes prediction (therefor avoidance) of this critical period difficult.
As you might expect, reality is much more complicated than my summary (not to mention that I may simply be misremembering). I encourage you to watch Greg's full presentation.
RESEARCH IS ONGOING
The information Greg presented was based on three streams in the far south Puget Sound. Plans are being made to do similar work in Hood Canal. With the larger streams that feed into Hood Canal, this project may produce results that prove to be more applicable to our north Puget Sound area. The design of this project (The Big Fjord Project) allows for greater volunteer participation. Check the CCC website and their Instagram account for details if you're interested.