The Extraordinary Struggle for Rare Strains of the Earth’s Trout

The experience of Cutthroat trout in western North America has been an astonishing saga — the life and death struggle of myriad strains and locations of our rare western trout —with all the elements of the West as players in this drama for survival against extirpation; against the unkind forces of blistering summer desert heat, merciless years upon years of draught; and then unyielding snowfall and snowmelt — with scouring torrential flooding.

Not only has there been the more recent drama of concerned conservationists, as players who have located and protected and secured fledgling remnants of trout populations that were long thought to be extinct; but there’s also been the drama of rangelands and cattle, free-rangers and land barons, ranchers and farmers, herders and grazers: all fighting for their piece of the American dream — with the trout of the streams that they trod, little more than an afterthought.

Yet thanks to the resiliency of the species and the remote unsettled wilderness regions that still freely give their pristine environs and life-sustaining water to the trout — of a dozen known unique species and subspecies of cutthroat trout; ten are still with us as recognized surviving species of the present.  Only one is wholly accepted as having been reduced to a footnote in the history books, (1)  the Yellowfin cutthroat of Twin Lakes, CO.

Those well acquainted with the history of the Alvord cutthroat trout, are aware that a relict population of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout (alvordensis) can be found in a small SE Oregon stream not far from the ancient Alvord’s traditional domain of the Alvord Basin in Oregon, and the northern Black Rock Desert region of Nevada — Virgin Creek.

And yet, the drama that has been—and still is—being played out here in the West is not so unique, that there are not equally remarkable dramas and stories from around the world…


For example, a strain of trout in Japan (actually more accurately similar to kokanee) was recently rediscovered in a lake some 300 miles from their original native habitat.  They’d long been thought to be extinct —yet from a transfer of eggs some seventy years ago— a remnant of the “black trout” was kept alive, and Tokyo University has been able to sample ancient museum specimens of the trout, along with samples from the “new” population, and has been able to verify that the “black kokanee” is, after all, not really extinct!!!

Japan’s “Mr. Fish,” Masayuki Miyazawa, along with Tetsuji Nakabo, identified the trout in Saiko Lake.  The discovery of the “extinct” fish came when Sakana-kun, as a guest associate professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science, found the nine blackish trout among many rainbow trout caught in Saiko Lake.

“I was really surprised.  This is a very interesting fish — it’s a treasure.  We have to protect it and not let it disappear again.” Tetsuji Nakabo, a professor at Kyoto University told the Associated Press.

The trout was only native to Japan’s deepest lake; Lake Tazawa.  Their home lake suffered environmental damage by introduction (diversion) of highly acidic waters from an adjacent river to increase volume for hydroelectric power generation.  100,000 eggs were brought from Lake Tazawa to Lake Saiko, near Mount Fuji, in 1935.

Black kokanee museum specimen

A Museum Specimen of kunimasu — the "black kokanee"

DNA analysis has also now confirmed that the unrecognized trout are kunimasu.   Saiko Lake fishermen knew of the kunimasu being there — but they have generally called them “black trout.”  Japan’s Environment Ministry now plans to remove these kunimasu trout from the list of extinct species when it reviews the list in fiscal 2012. . . It will be the first time that they’ve removed a vertebrate species from the extinction list!

“We should take this opportunity to think about the value of nature and living creatures, so as not to send any species to extinction,” Sakana-kun said.  Shomei Yokouchi, Governor of Yamanashi Prefecture, noted that his ministry will “take steps to conserve” the black trout according to the Shimbun.


Zeb Hogan of the University of Nevada, Reno has a job that no doubt most of us would love to have; rescuing megafishes — including the world’s largest trout species, from extinction!

Zeb Hogan and Hucho Taiman in Mongolia

A brief story on Zeb  UNR Hogan National Geographic Fellow  Info on Megafishes Project

Hucho Taimen on Eg River MongoliaThe world’s largest trout, the Hucho Taimen (seen here in Mongolia’s Eg River), has been fished to the brink of extinction in China and Russia.  Conservationists are struggling to save the fish in its last stronghold: northern Mongolia’s remote rivers. (2)

A Small Hucho Taimen

A Small Hucho Taimen from the Eg River Mongolia

No doubt, far away places, even such as Kamchatka River and similar remote strongholds of native trout wilderness may also someday face the seemingly inevitable degradation of habitat and the threatening of what once was . . .


Perhaps this should signal for us that there is an opportunity to look into our own “back­yards,” and as possible make a difference for the good — for the positive — so that our own neighborhood may be cared for with adroit stewardship: so our own “species of concern” may find us as not an enemy (as it may have been with barons and rangers of the past who struggled to see that preserving nature would also be to their own benefit); but may we be true friends and allies that care for our home, its environment and its life; with all of the ability and the resources within our reach, “so as not to send any species into extinction.”

Sometimes, there is an opportunity right before our eyes to truly make that difference.

1) CUTTHROAT: Native Trout of the West, Patrick C. Trotter, Pgs. 448-459

     Trout and Salmon of North America,  Robert J. Behnke,  Pgs. 201-205

2) National Geographic, Megafishes Project

© KOD 1-2012

About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Photo Journals. Bookmark the permalink.

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