More on Dolly Varden/Bull Trout

Nobody believed I was really going to give up, did they?

That last thread on Dolly Varden got pretty heated, with a lot of “facts” about the state of Dollies in the Skagit and whether it was OK to fish for them flying back and forth. I guess we pretty much determined that some think it’s OK and some don’t. I don’t know that we cleared up how the fish are doing or the difference between Dollies and Bull Trout. FishPirate provided some pretty authoritative info, some of it contrary to my understanding, so I did some research to check up on what I thought I knew. (I don’t really know it all; I just play one on the Internet.) FP was pretty accurate on most counts, but I did manage to fill in some blanks. I offer the information for what it’s worth.

According to folks at USFWS, they do consider lab techniques for making distinctions between Dollies and Bull Trout through DNA analysis reliable and accurate. (But Jamie Glasgow, the Science Director at Washington Trout, believes there is some controversy involving inconsistencies between various DNA techniques, and Curt Kraemer at WDFW seemed to back that up.)

What everybody agreed on was that the morphometrics (distinctions using physical traits) were unreliable, even under rigorous analyses. Kraemer says that some fish he identified as Dollies using the Hass protocol turned out to be Bull Trout under DNA analysis (and vice versa). Glasgow said point blank that claiming you can make the distinction using morphometrics “is crap,” that there is so much variability between individual populations that it’s nearly subjective. Apparently even Hass himself acknowledged in a presentation to a Bull Trout Conference in Calgary that while in principle his protocol is accurate, it is so “difficult” that the likelihood of “error” in the field may make it inappropriate as a tool for making the distinction between Dollies and Bull Trout. (The folks “in the field” might have a different take on it.) The gist is that it’s not likely you or I will make an accurate distinction.

At any rate, USFWS believes that identification is difficult enough, and that the techniques for making a distinction are controversial enough that they are getting ready to go ahead and list Dolly Varden in the Washington Coast/Puget Sound DPS (not ESU, whatever) as Threatened under the ESA, based on their “Similarity of Appearance” to Bull Trout. In other words, any ESA-related regulation that applies to Bull Trout will apply equally to Dollies, making ANY distinction moot.

It is true that almost all of the char in the Skagit and on the coast are actually Bull Trout, especially the anadromous fish, which are what everybody here seems to be interested in. As it turns out, in Puget Sound/Washington Coast, it’s the dollies that are the resident fish, generally confined to headwater reaches, and the Bull Trout that are the sea-runs, contrary to popular belief (and fairly contrary to the life-history forms in other parts of the respective species’ ranges).

Kraemer says that he did a rough estimate of the adult Bull Trout population in the Skagit back in 1998, and came up with about 10,000 adults. Pretty good, but not ten times the adult steelhead population by a long shot. That includes the entire anadromous reach of the Skagit Basin (The Skagit, Sauk, Suiattle, White Chuck, Cacade, Jackman Creek, Bacon Creek, etc), so that’s not very high density (my very unscientific thumbnail puts it at less than 30 fish per mile; of course it’s unlikely they are spread out that evenly, but you get the picture). I suppose that’s not bad for anadromous fish, especially one as aggressive as a Bull Trout, which makes for decent fishing, I guess. Kraemer also claims that the population is growing. He bases that on spawning surveys in a single index reach for the entire basin, but his numbers are pretty encouraging, even if his extrapolation is a little disconcerting.

Personally, I tend to take Kraemer with a grain of salt, but everyone I’ve ever talked to acknowledges that Curt has done a lot of good work on Bull Trout in the Skagit, and knows as much as anyone. My opinion is that Curt, like just about everyone else at WDFW, tends to err on the side of harvest, sport or otherwise, but the Bull Trout on the Skagit do appear to be doing well, for now at least, and as everyone has said, it’s legal to fish for them there. Hell, it’s legal to kill two, so knock yourselves out, especially if you plan to C&R.

On the other hand, one more time, IT IS NOT LEGAL TO FISH FOR BULL TROUT ON THE PENINSULA! Nobody has very complete data yet on the coast rivers, but the Park Service has determined that nearly all the char in the mainstems of the big park systems (Hoh, Quinault, Queets) are bull trout. (The Quinault has some dollies in the mainstem, and other systems have resident dollies above barriers.) They do not yet have a good handle on relative abundance (current or historical) but they have started some long-term and medium-term studies that will help them determine distribution, migration patterns, and trends in relative abundance. In the face of current uncertainties (not to mention the listing), they are giving the fish the benefit of the doubt and have closed all park waters to fishing for bull trout AND dollies. WDFW has followed suit in waters outside the park. If you do catch a char “incidentally” you are required to return it unharmed to the water as soon as possible. That means no measuring, admiring, or picture taking.

When you do go out to incidentally catch bull trout while you’re “fishing for steelhead” or “fishing for cutthroat” you will probably not get busted. After all who can prove what you intended to do with that black and white reverse spider? But if managers at WDFW or the Park Service decide that it’s getting to be a problem, they could impose some tackle restrictions (like say, no weighted flies or sinking lines), or close certain areas (like the South Fork Hoh), or close all fishing in the river, in order to get a handle on the “incidental” catches (and related mortality). That’s what WDFW did last year when they banned weighted flies on the NF Stilly to stop the idiots from harassing chinook.

In other words, you could be screwing the folks who really are fishing for steelhead or cutthroat, not to mention stressing Threatened Bull Trout.
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

Good post Ray, I generally agree with you. I can shed a little more light here. Just like any other agency (even if NGO), Washington Trout has an agenda. Glasgow is new to the profession and does not have the experience working with these fish to make those determinations--ask him about his level of experience, and you'll see what I mean. I have a feeling that people on this website have seen and handled far more bull trout than he and Kurt Beardslee combined. . .

Morphometrics are based on statistics; just like anything else, sample size makes all the difference---Gordon Haas and Ted Cavendar would not disagree here. That being said, if Curt Kraemer handles 200 fish per year, and a couple turn out to be identified incorrectly, you're still talking about 98% confidence. Then again, I'd be curious what "morphometrics" Curt was referring to.

As for DNA labs, I too made a call this week. Until recently, the WDFW lab has not had the catalog of DNA markers necessary to make the distinction between BT and DV, but the U of Mt. can, and has had them for several years. Apparently Sewall Young DOES have the necessary marker in hand as we speak. Curt knows this, but working for WDFW he probably won't comment officially. Have you been following the Lynx debacle these days?

Curt made a statement last year that there were at least 50,000 char that migrate through the Skagit estuary--this wouldn't include the population in Ross Reservoir, or the upper portions of the watershed. I would take a comment from Kraemer a little more seriously than a grain of salt, but his numbers don't seem to add up.



Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

I have a question for you people. If it is that hard to tell a BT from DV. Then tell me why are you going to all this trouble,because when I catch one how am I going to know what one I caught. If and when I catch one it will go right back in the water as I don't like to eat fish just catch them. Jim S. :CONFUSED

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

I'm getting more confused about bull trout the more I read. I went looking for something on the Haas morphometric protocol but came up with Taylor, et al. 2001. Nested Genetic Diversity in [chars] CJFAS 58:406-420. It seems like the picture that is emerging is that there's a northern clade DV in SE Alaska, and a southern clade DV in lower 48 (with ranges overlapping in between) and the BT are more genetically related to the southern clade than the northern clade is to the southern clade.

The authors didn't infer this, but it got me thinking that making the BT halotype call based on the Taylor 1999 on, what is it three or four loci?, might be drawing an artificial line in the sand between the species too far into the hybridized coastal Bull Trout to be useful and might have to be revised. Otherwise it will look like "90% of Skagit Dollys and 100 % of Olympic Penn. Dollys are bull trout.

I too started thinking these bull trout are smelling like lynx.
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

Maybe Curt's 50,000 number included outmigrating and rearing juveniles. (The WDFW estimate for outmigrating steelhead smolts last year was around 40,000; it's been upward of 80,000 in years past; since 2001 the escapement goal for returning adults has been 6000; previously, WDFW had no specific goal for the Skagit, but managed for "targets" that ranged from 8000-12000; projected run size this year is 5000, about half Kraemer's estimate of adult bull trout.)

I think it's obvious that we do generally agree, so I hope we're not getting into some kind of pissing contest. But I have to defend Jamie a little. Counting his graduate work he's been in the field for six years (3 years professionally). Yes, that's not a lot of experience compared to some, but it's not fair to make it sound like he has no idea what he's doing. He's good enough to have gotten the top science job at an organization with a wide reputation for extremely credible work throughout the environmental, academic, and management community. (Don't accuse me of calling it a unanimous reputation; see your point on agendas.)

Besides, he can read. And his assessmenet on the morphometrics is apparently shared by a lot of people with a lot of experience at WDFW, USFWS, and the Park Service. As I said, Kraemer was using the Hass protocol, (rigorously, in his words) and while I didn't get the numbers, I got the impression, both from him and some folks a USFWS, that we were talking about more than just a couple samples that turned out in error. Apparently even Hass himself has acknowledged that there are some problems "statistically."
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

MajorGeek, I like the way you think. . .Check out these articles:

Haas, G. R., and J. D. McPhail. 1991. Systematics and distribution of Dolly Varden and bull trout in North America. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 48(11): 2191-2211.***If you would like to give Gordon a call, I have his phone number as well***

Spruell et al. 1999. Genetic population structure within streams: microsatellite analysis of bull trout populations. Ecology of Freshwater Fish. 8: 114-121.

Leary, R. F., and F. W. Allendorf. 1997. Genetic confirmation of sympatric bull trout and Dolly Varden in Western Washington. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 126: 715-720.

Spruell is currently working on a paper to describe the haplotype of Puget Sound bull trout; this paper will probably be out in TAFS in the fall.

If you can't get a hold of these, let me know and I'll send you a copy.


Look, I like Jamie as a person, and would say that his electrofishing experience in the Tolt is worth something. But given the number of native char that he has had to identify, he's probably not the best person to base the validity of the Haas discriminant method--especially with a statement saying it is "total crap". Personally, I don't think he has dealt with enough char to have much of an opinion, but he's a great guy. I had the opportunity several years ago to work with his predecessor (Dr. Steve Conroy), and would say that Jamie must have been at the right place at the right time.

Curt probably did include outmigrating sub-adults and juveniles rearing in the system--since they are part of the population. I would bet that he also included adfluvial fish, and adults and juveniles that are upstream of barriers. We all are aware of some of the assumptions associated with redd surveys and index reaches--but that's not the point.

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

Haas and McPhail 1991 was what I went looking for when I found Taylor, et al. 2001. It looks like CJFAS doesn't have articles older than about 5 years on line. I'd like to see it. If you can't sent an attachment you can anon ftp

I like Leary and Allendorf, 1997. Genetic Confirmation of Sympatric Bull Trout and Dolly Varden in Western Washington. TAFS 126:715-720. They found both BT and DV genotypes in the EF Quinault, no hybrids! So how are these southern clade guys getting bullish, as Taylor et al. suggest?
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

Well what do you know? I guess we are in a pissing contest. You can't claim to like someone and then dis them in print. I know Steve quite well. He hired Jamie, so apparently has a little more respect for him than you do.

And speaking of not the point, Jamie's experience is irrelevant to the fact that all the people who matter seem to believe all the morphometric protocols are inadequate for field work, at least non-lethally (again, even Hass himself). The only other point that I've been trying to make, perhaps too subtley, is that the ratio of bull trout to steelhead in the Skagit is nowhere near 10 to 1, no matter how you count them.

BTW: Kraemer says his counts do not include fish above Ross, which at any rate are only marginally relevant to the subject that started this whole thing, fishing for char in the anadromous reaches of the Skagit.
Salvelinus malma OR confluentus???

Members of this board:
I really didn't mean to dis anyone, for that I apologize. I will be more careful in future posts. My intent was to say that there are a lot of "experts" around---that's all. Again, I'm sorry about that.

USFWS did list Dolly Varden under the "similarity of appearance clause" under the ESA--November 2000. This listing was warranted, for two purposes. One was correct identification and distinction with the listed species (the intent of the clause), the other was due to the fact that little is known about the fish that have been identified as "Dolly's"--by the time USFWS conducted adequate research on these fish to identify a DPS and get them listed, it may or may not be too late. This was one way to speed up the petition process. So, for all intensive purposes, Salvelinus malma and confluentus are both listed under the ESA.