Cutthroat Trout Management Concepts Cutthroat Trout Management









Yellowstone National Park Fish Management Policy

Fisheries management policy has changed dramatically over the years since Yellowstone National Park was first established.  From commercial fishing Yellowstone Lake, to running hatcheries, to catch-and-release, Yellowstone has seen policy change as knowledge has accumulated and views have changed over time (Gresswell and Liss 1995).  To read more about the history of Yellowstone’s Fishing Policy, click here.

One of the newest policies was issued by the Superintendent of Yellowstone, Michael Finley, on February 9, 2001.  Under this new policy, all native sport fish species in Yellowstone are placed under catch-and-release-only fishing rules. This includes the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the westslope cutthroat, the Snake River finespotted cutthroat, the Montana grayling, and the mountain whitefish.  Most of the park’s native fishes have been included under catch-and-release-only rules since the early 1970’s.  The native species affected by the policy change are the Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the mountain whitefish.  The Park Service recognizes the hugely adverse impact that visitors and invasive, introduced organisms have on the fishery and the 2001 policy changes are an attempt “to help repair the tremendous damage being done to our native species” (Finley 2001).

An Aquatic Resources division of the park has been in place since 1998.  Previously this area had been overseen by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but because of a reordering of USFWS objectives and of the park superintendent’s desire for the park to manage its own resource, this changed in 1996.  The objectives of fisheries management in the park are as follows.

Fisheries Management Objectives:

1.      Manage and interpret the fish populations and other aquatic components as

      functioning elements of the park ecosystem.

2.   Preserve and, where necessary, restore native species and aquatic habitats.

3.   Provide anglers with a high-quality opportunity to fish for wild trout in natural

      settings.                                                                                          (Murphey 1999)


To accomplish these goals, the Aquatic Resources division runs a long-term program to understand the ecology of Yellowstone Lake and its associated cutthroat trout population.  It monitors angling levels.  It conducts backcountry stream and lake surveys for baseline chemical, physical, and biological characteristics.  Also, in addition to monitoring angling, non-consumptive uses of the fish such as fish watching are also monitored.

Since 1973, Yellowstone has used a Volunteer Angler Report card attached to a mandatory park fishing permit to provide data on angler use, exploitation levels, and the effectiveness of and compliance with park fishing regulations.  The park modifies these fishing regulations based in part on feedback from these cards.  Regulations are species specific and vary from place to place within the park.  For many years the park fishing permits were issued free of charge, but in 1995 the park began charging a fee for the privilege of angling.  Proceeds from the fee support the park’s program of aquatic resources management.

One of the aquatic resources programs that proceeds from fishing permits go to support is the park’s gill netting operations.  When Lake Trout were confirmed as inhabiting Yellowstone Lake in 1994, the Park Service started collecting information about all of the different aspects of the problem.  In February of 1995, a workshop and information exchange was held in Gardiner, Montana.  During this workshop, different possible ways to control Lake Trout were discussed.  These control measures ranged from using divers and underwater, remotely operated vehicles to kill Lake Trout, to using chemical toxicants, to stocking sterile male Lake Trout in the lake, to introducing sterile sea lampreys into the lake (Mcintyre 1995).    Of these possible remedies, gill netting was decided to be the most effective at removing large numbers of Lake Trout from Yellowstone Lake.  Since 1998, the Aquatic Resources division of the park has been running gillnetting operations.  These operations are paid for out of funds generated by park fishing permits.

Fish Management Policy Outside The Park


In the state of Wyoming, fisheries are managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  Under Wyoming Statute 23-1-103 the department was created and charged with providing “an adequate and flexible system for the control, propagation, management, protection and regulation of all Wyoming wildlife." The Department is the only entity of state government directly charged with managing Wyoming's wildlife resources.  The department runs 11 hatcheries and monitors wild fish populations for diseases.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department does not discourage the catching of Yellowstone Cutthroat.  Cutthroat are managed as a game fish and the state fishing regulations state that anglers may catch up to six per day.  In fact, the department encourages anglers to catch Yellowstone Cutthroat.  If an angler participates in the department’s “Cutt-Slam” program and catches all four cutthroat subspecies, the angler will be awarded a certificate of achievement by the agency.  The “Cutt-Slam” web page even points anglers toward Yellowstone Lake to fish.