Native Species Underwater
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is renowned for its largely intact natural landscape boasting original carnivore and ungulate species that still roaming their native range.
Perhaps less well-known is that an equally impressive assemblage of native species exists underwater. In addition to being a world-class destination for kayaking, rafting, and fishing, Jackson Hole’s Snake River and its tributaries are home to one of the most ecologically intact native fish assemblages in the contiguous United States.
Unlike many river systems in the West, where native trout have been replaced by species which are introduced, this section of the Upper Snake River watershed is one of the last remaining strongholds for the native Snake River cutthroat trout.
Photo: Andy J. Danylchuk.
In addition to being home to native Snake River cutthroat trout, a Yellowstone cutthroat trout subspecies that is the only native cutthroat trout to still dominate in its home range, the Upper Snake River watershed is also home to native mountain whitefish, shiners, sculpin, and dace.
How can we protect our uniquely diverse native fishery so that it thrives for future generations to enjoy?
What You Can Do?
• Understand state and federal regulations for fishing and boating in Jackson Hole.
• Clean, drain and dry watercraft to prevent the spread of AIS.
• Pack it in, pack it out. Keep our watershed pristine by helping control litter.
• If catch-and-release fishing, know “best practices” to maximize fish survival.
Top left photo: Zebra Mussles: U.S. Geological Survey. Fish in net: Dave McCoy
DID YOU KNOW?
According to a 2011 study by Trout Unlimited, climate change will cause cutthroat to lose 58 percent of their remaining habitat by 2080 using a “middle of the road” greenhouse gas scenario.
Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) pose serious ecological and economic threats to the Upper Snake River watershed. These include whirling disease (which affects trout) and zebra or quagga mussels, which can overrun and decimate otherwise healthy aquatic ecosystems.
The transmission of non-native plants, pathogens, and other invasive species from one water body to another can occur inadvertently when AIS hitch a ride on watercraft or even fishing waders.
A simple “Clean, Drain, Dry” technique is recommended before transporting watercraft between water bodies. According to Grand Teton National Park steps to prevent the spread of AIS include:
• Removing all visible mud, plants, fish, or other tiny animals from your boats, trailers, and other equipment, including waders, boots, clothing, and nets.
• Eliminate water from all equipment before transporting anywhere. Much of the recreational equipment used in water contains spots where water can collect and potentially harbor these aquatic hitchhikers. Drain your boat hull and live well in a safe location (a flat paved, dirt, or gravel area) away from all park surface waters.
• Clean and dry everything that comes in contact with water before entering a new body of water. It is best to use high-pressure, hot water (available at car washes outside the park) to clean your boat, trailer, and gear.
• Dry Equipment. If possible, allow 5 days of drying time before entering new waters.
This U.S. Geological Survey interactive mapping tool shows observations of invasive zebra mussels in the United States.
Special regulations exist to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, including AIS inspections at ports of entry, other border locations, and major waters around the state. All watercraft using Wyoming waters are required to display an Aquatic Invasive Species decal. You can learn more about Wyoming’s aquatic invasive species prevention efforts here.
Catch & Release Best Practices
Catch-and-release fishing can help maintain native trout populations. However, catch-and-release is only effective if most fish survive with little to no measurable impacts. Over the past few decades, scientific research on recreational fisheries has demonstrated that the fate of fish after release is primarily determined by angler behavior and that even small changes in how an angler catches, handles, and releases a fish can have positive outcomes once that fish swims away. Not only does using best practices increase survival rates of fish, but it also helps fish return to their normal behavior as quickly as possible after release. Using best practices for catch-and-release is a quick and effective way to put conservation in to practice.
The following principles can be used for a wide range of species and settings, and are backed by scientific evidence.
1. Minimize air exposure. Ten seconds or less is best.
2. Eliminate contact with dry surfaces. Wet your hands before holding fish and keep them in or over the water.
3. Reduce Handling Time. Fish are wild animals and handling is stressful for them, whether they are in your hands or in a net. Reduce the amount of time that fish are restrained.