Page One

Conservation group wants trout on endangered list

The Associated Press
Saturday October 14, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO – One of the nation’s top fish conservation groups wants the California golden trout declared an endangered species, fearing the state fish will be rendered extinct by an alarming rate of hybridization in its two native Sierra Nevada watersheds. 

Trout Unlimited, the leading coldwater conservation organization in North America, believes the population of pure golden trout is so at risk that it skipped a routine step of seeking “threatened” protective status. Instead, it will angle for the endangered list, the highest designation, when it files a petition Monday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Steve Trafton, the group’s policy director, cited scientific statistics that show only 4 percent of the native range is not threatened by hybridization as proof that “this is a very serious problem and we need to give these fish the highest degree of protection we can.” 

“There’s no doubt there’s a serious risk of extinction,” he added during an interview Friday from the group’s California chapter in Albany. 

Roland Knapp, biologist with the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab, said stream mileage is the simplest way to measure the golden trout decline. About the turn of the 19th century, before the Euro-American settlement, the native population encompassed about 450 miles of stream habitat. Now, that number is down to about 60 to 70 miles, he said. 

Declared California’s state fish in 1947, golden trout are extremely popular with fishermen around the world and are known for their fight and brilliant coloring. Deep gold scales become a striking mix of red and orange along the belly. Blue spots run down their sides and, like most trout, they are speckled with black. 

“They are very rare, they fight very hard and they’re extraordinarily beautiful,” Trafton said. 

The golden trout’s ancestry dates to the days of the troglodytes, with fossils showing they may have evolved directly from rainbow trout lines. At some point, natural barriers isolated schools in two high-altitude Sierra habitats; the upper South Fork Kern River and adjacent Golden Trout Creek. 

While native species are limited by their environments and grow to about 10 inches, hybrids transplanted to larger lakes have reached much greater sizes. The world record catch was 11 pounds, from a lake in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming in 1948. 

Trafton emphasized that the endangered designation would not affect the golden trout fished outside of the two native ranges. 

“If this listing goes through, one of the fears is that recreational angling will be shut down,” he said. “There’s a possibility that could happen on these two specific creeks, but as far as the golden trout people love to fish for, they are not going to be protected by the act.” 

The U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Game, the agencies that manage fisheries, have already begun taking steps to protect the golden trout. Measures include the creation of the 300,000 acre Golden Trout Wilderness in 1978 and a series of man-made barriers to prevent hybridization. 

But Trout Unlimited, which has 450 chapters and 100,000 members nationwide, says the management plan isn’t effective enough. The group believes there are more fecund ways of rescuing a population it says has been hemmed in by non-natives moving upstream and into south fork and downstream from High Sierra lakes. 

“The preservation effort is a step in the right direction,” Trafton said. “But it’s not adequate to preclude the fish being listed.” 

The Wildlife Service could not be reached Friday. The agency will have 90 days to respond to the petition.