Bonneville cutthroat trout (BCT) are one of 14 subspecies of cutthroat trout and unique to the southeast corner of the state. Cutthroat are popular among anglers for their tenacity and willingness to rise for a dry fly. The BCT is no exception and has notoriety among many trout anglers. The productive waters of southeast Idaho allow fish to grow to trophy sizes, especially in the Bear River where BCT call home.
Starting in 2007, Idaho Department of Fish and Game in cooperation with PacifiCorp, the power utility responsible for operation of three hydroelectric projects on the Bear River, partnered to boost the recovery of BCT in Idaho. One of the unique aspects of the process was the creation of a broodstock program that would be used to propagate, and ultimately re-establish and/or supplement BCT populations within the Bear River drainage in Idaho. The program dovetails with Idaho’s Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Management Plan which outlines the state’s goals, objectives, and strategic approach to population enhancement. The PacifiCorp partnership provides important funding and brings a diversity of stakeholders together to put projects on the ground that improve habitat quality and connectivity in Bear River tributaries. Another critical component is the conservation aquaculture component of the project which provides wild-source fish used to seed project areas.
The aquaculture piece of the BCT recovery program is unique and sources eggs from local populations of BCT in the Bear River drainage. Fisheries biologists and fish hatchery managers work together to collect wild BCT from streams near proposed stocking locations. These wild BCT are placed in a rearing pond and then collected again when they are mature and ready to spawn. Mature BCT are collected from the pond in early spring when they migrate up a fish ladder and into a holding tank oriented at the inlet of each rearing pond. Fish and Game staff spawn the fish, and the eggs are hatched and juveniles reared at the Grace Fish Hatchery. The offspring are raised to around 10 inches in length and then released in streams to help kick-start the local population.
To date, this program has largely focused on tributaries to the Bear River in the Gentile Valley between Grace Dam and Oneida Reservoir. Idaho Fish and Game has sourced around 2,500 BCT from Cottonwood Creek for broodstock, a local BCT stronghold in the area. A total of 535 females have been spawned and 190,674 fish stocked to benefit the BCT population. The goal is to stock on average 20,000 BCT each year, and with the numbers mentioned before the program has averaged 21,186 BCT/year.
Thus far, BCT have been successfully reintroduced to several streams. In addition, the mainstem Bear River in the Black Canyon reach has been stocked with BCT to directly support fishing opportunity.