Yellowstone National Park is one of America’s most celebrated natural areas, where breathtaking scenery abounds and wild animals roam the trails at will. Researchers at the United States Geological Survey, however, recently decided that one species of fish — the lake trout — found in Yellowstone must be sacrificed in order to preserve its native cousin, the cutthroat trout. The cutthroat is a “keystone” species in the Yellowstone ecosystem and is a vital food source for grizzly bears, egrets, eagles, martens and other animals.
Kirk Johnson of the New York Times describes the conflict between lake trout and cutthroats:
“Lake trout, which park officials believe were introduced by fishermen a few decades ago, gobble up the cutthroats (named for the slash of red under their jaws). And lake trout, unlike the cuts, as they are called, hide in the deep and do not venture into streams and tributaries to spawn, where bears and other animals can catch and eat them.”
In an attempt to find where the Yellowstone lake trout spawn, researchers implanted tiny radio transmitters into several of the fish. Once they locate the lake trout eggs, it will be much easier to eradicate the species, possibly with “electricity or suction.”
The attempted elimination of lake trout comes after several failed efforts to isolate and preserve cutthroat trout from predatory non-native fish species. Even the experts are unsure about how effective the eradication will be, or if there will be any unforeseen consequences of removing lake trout from the ecosystem.
“We may think we know what we’re doing, but the outcomes are going to be unpredictable no matter what,” said Anders Halverson, an aquatic ecologist.
Yellowstone is encouraging anglers to catch and eat as many lake trout as they want in order to help with the eradication effort. Cutthroats are strictly catch-and-release only. Even with unlimited fishing, much of the trout will surely go to waste as the fish are killed in the water. Selling trout fillets in the remote area would be logistically difficult.
Tracking buoys that read the implants embedded in the trout will be deployed later this week — and then the massacre will begin.
Photo credit: Fishking_1