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TU's State of the Trout
Executive summary

Fishing for trout is a passion shared by countless anglers across the country. The challenge of catching a monster Lahontan cutthroat trout from Nevada’s Pyramid Lake or a salter brook trout from a coastal stream in Massachusetts can be rewarding and frustrating all at the same time. As fly-fishing author John Gierach described it, “If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.”

The beauty and diversity of trout attracts the artist and photographer as well as the angler. Not only are the fish themselves works of art, but they occur in some of the most beautiful settings the country has to offer, from small gurgling country streams to high-mountain lakes to sweeping western rivers.

Unfortunately, neither the status of native trout nor their habitat is secure. During the past century, trout have declined as a result of land development, overfishing, water pollution, poor timber and livestock grazing practices and the introduction of non-native fishes and other aquatic invasive species. Stocking of hatchery trout has swamped the genes of the native trout through hybridization and competition.

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Trout now face an evolution of these threats. Human population expansion has increased the demand for clean water, with more water diverted for municipal, agricultural and energy development. As our population expands, so does the demand for energy with new facilities invading prime trout country and the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing techniques that require 2 to 8 million gallons of water per well. Add to these the growing threat of climate change, which not only is warming the cold-water habitats trout depend on, but also appears to be compounding many of the traditional problems trout face. In the face of climate change, our wildfire season is longer and fires are larger and more intense droughts and flooding are more severe. Non-native species, including warmwater fish like smallmouth bass and carp, are spreading into what was prime trout habitat.
Westslope Cutthroat
This report details the status and trends within 28 separate species and subspecies of trout and char that are native to the U.S. Trout naturally occur in 38 of the 50 United States. Not included in this report are grayling, whitefish or the ocean-going steelhead and salmon, which will be described in a future report. Alaska will also be treated in a later report.

Of 28 native trout species and subspecies, three are extinct and six are listed as threatened or endangered. Excluding the extinct trout, 52 percent (13 of 25) occupy less than 25 percent of their historical habitat and are at high risk from at least one major threat. Nearly all native trout — 92 percent — face some level of risk.

We divide our analysis into 10 large ecoregions: Pacific Coast, Central Valley/Sierra Nevada, Interior Columbia/Northern Rockies, Interior Basins, Southern Rockies/Colorado Plateau, Southwest, Great Lakes/Upper Mississippi, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast. Trout status, threats and success stories of how to deal with these threats are described within this regional context.

Widespread populations, genetic diversity and flexibility in life history expression has maintained trout over the eons and helped them adapt to changing conditions. But now, the loss of diversity, including genetic, life history and geographic diversity, threatens the persistence of most native trout species and subspecies. Not surprisingly, most trout face multiple threats, with two of the most common and serious threats to native trout —non-native species and climate change—now acting in tandem to degrade trout habitat and encourage the spread of non-native species.

If future generations of Americans are to continue to reap the recreational and economic benefits of abundant trout populations, we must chart a new path forward. As described in this report, we have the knowledge and tools to deal successfully with current and emerging threats and to restore robust populations of native trout. The question is not whether we can restore native trout but whether we choose to do so. Trout Unlimited is dedicated to helping society make the necessary changes to implement the following steps.
1.Work at watershed scales to protect remaining high-quality habitats, reconnect fragmented stream systems and restore degraded mainstream and valley bottom areas. This will not only help restore fish populations but also improve the storage and delivery of water supplies during times of drought and flood.
2.Train volunteer leaders and the next generation of conservation stewards so that our work to protect, reconnect, and restore wild and native trout populations will persist over time.
3.Work to rebuild large, interconnected populations of native trout, which would facilitate restoration of life history diversity and create populations that are resilient to climate change. This approach not only offers some protection from climate extremes but provides opportunities to conserve entire communities of rare aquatic species.
4.Become smarter and more effective in our restoration efforts. Restoration shouldoccur at large scales, incorporate local climate change impacts and must be monitored and sustained over time.
5.Control the introduction and spread of non-native plant and fish species and minimize or eliminate trout hatchery stocking programs in the vicinity of native trout populations.
6.Become more efficient in our use of energy resources and the water that is required and make sure that energy development does not impact high-value fishery resources.
7.Conserve water resources and become more efficient in the water that our agricultural practices, cities, and factories use so that we can build more sustainable communities.
8.Increase angler participation in habitat restoration, monitoring and policies that affect fishery resources.
Ultimately, the human condition is inextricably linked to the status of native and wild trout populations. We all depend on high-quality water in stable supply, not only for our cities and agriculture, but for our recreation and spiritual sustenance. Native and wild trout are sensitive to pollution and degraded water quality, so their sustainable populations are good indicators of the health of our rivers and their watersheds. All the more reason to make sure we maintain vibrant, fishable trout populations for our current generation and those yet to come.

The values of sustainable fisheries to our lives are sometimes hard to quantify but are well described in the following passage by Robert Travers.

I fish because I love to because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties and assorted social posturing I thus escape because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be brought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience because I suspect men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip because mercifully, there are no telephones on trout waters because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid and finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant — and not nearly so much fun.