Columbia River Fisheries Program Office
Pacific Region

Native Trout Program - Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki)

Adult coastal cutthroat troutCoastal cutthroat trout range along the western coast of North America from Prince William Sound, Alaska, to the Eel River, California (Behnke 1992). One of at least fourteen subspecies of cutthroat trout in western North America, the coastal cutthroat trout exhibits life history strategies unique to the entire species.

Coastal cutthroat trout have been considered a sensitive species in recent years and have been considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Coastal cutthroat trout have been impacted by anthropogenic practices such as logging (Holtby 1987, Johnson et al. 1999), over-harvest (Giger 1972, Ricker 1982, Gresswell and Harding 1997), and artificial propagation (Campton 1985, Flagg et al. 1995). In the Columbia River basin, hydropower has been linked to the declines of upper Columbia River stocks through passage impacts (Deriso et al. 1996, Deriso 2001). In the lower Columbia River, regulated flow has resulted in a shift in the amplitude and timing of high flow events (PNRC 1978). This shift in hydrological character influences physical, chemical and biological habitat parameters of the lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary. These changing parameters potentially impact all Pacific salmonids that use the lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary year around or intermittently as nursery habitat or a migratory corridor.

Electrofishing for cutthroat troutRecent investigations by the US Fish and Wildlife Service - Columbia River Fisheries Program Office (USFWS in prep) were aimed at 1) identifying the timing of immigration and emigration between the tributaries and lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary, 2) identifying areas of mainstem habitat use by emigrating smolts, 3) describing the physiological and morphological characters of smolting, and 4) describing movement and habitat use of adult coastal cutthroat trout in the lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary. These investigations support previous findings, indicating that the lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary are extensively used by multiple life stages of coastal cutthroat trout throughout the year. These investigations have also indicated that coastal cutthroat trout may use multiple tributaries within a season and that a certain degree of straying may occur.

Future work on this project will attempt to estimate the extent of coastal cutthroat trout fluvial movements among neighboring tributaries, estimate the rate of straying by returning anadromous adults, estimate between season and between life stage survival for coastal cutthroat trout, and differentiate between sympatric life history strategies within a population. Continued work toward understanding the life history and population dynamics of this species in the lower Columbia River basin is necessary determining an accurate distribution and abundance of coastal cutthroat trout in the southwestern Washington/lower Columbia River DPS.

Because coastal cutthroat trout make extensive use of the mainstem and estuary (as both juveniles and adults), these fish may be more susceptible to changes in the productivity of those areas than any other Pacific salmonid. Ultimately, understanding the population dynamics of coastal cutthroat trout in response to habitat restoration efforts in the lower Columbia River mainstem and estuary may not only prove beneficial toward the management of this species, but toward the management of all Pacific salmonids that use this area of the lower Columbia River basin intermittently as nursery habitat or a migratory corridor.


Johnson, J.R., J. Baumsteiger, J. Zydlewski, J.M. Hudson, and W. Ardren. 2010. Evidence of panmixia between sympatric life history forms of coastal cutthroat trout in two lower Columbia River tributaries. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 30:691-701. Abstract

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Movements of Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Onchorhynchus clarki clarki) in the Lower Columbia River: Tributary, Mainstem and Estuary Use. (pdf 1.2mb)


Behnke, R.J. 1992. Native trout of western North America. American Fisheries Society Monograph 6. Bethesda, Maryland.

Campton, D.E., and F.M. Utter. 1985. Natural hybridization between steehead trout (Salmo gairdneri) and coastal cutthroat trout (Salmo clarki clarki) in two Puget Sound streams. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 42:110-119.

Deriso, R.B. 2001. Bayesian analysis of stock survival and recovery of spring and summer Chinook of the Snake River basin. In Incorporating Uncertainty in Fishery Models, J.M. Berksen, L.L. Kline, and D.J. Orth, editors. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, Maryland.

Deriso, R., D. Marmorek, and I. Parnell. 1996. Retrospective analysis of passage mortality of spring Chinook of the Columbia River. In Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH): Final Report of Retrospective Analysis for Fiscal Year 1996, D.R. Marmorek and 21 coauthors, compilers and editors. ESSA Technologies Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia.

Flagg, T.A., F.W. Waknitz, D.J. Maynard, G.B. Milner, and C.V. Mahnken. 1995. The effect of hatcheries on native coho salmon populations in the lower Columbia River. Pages 366-375 in Proceedings of the American Fisheries Society Symposium on the Uses and Effects of Cultured Fishes in Aquatic Ecosystems, March 1-17, 1994, H. Schramm and B. Piper, editors. American Fisheries Society Symposium 15, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Giger, R.D. 1972. Ecology and management of coastal cutthroat trout in Oregon. Fisheries Research Report No. 6, 61 pp. Oregon State Game Commission, Corvallis, Oregon.

Gresswell, R.E., and R.D. Harding. 1997. The role of special angling regulations in management of coastal cutthroat trout. Pages 151-156 in Sea-run Cutthroat Trout: Biology, Management, and Future Conservation, J.D. Hall, P.A. Bisson, and R.E. Gresswell, editors. American Fisheries Society, Corvallis, Oregon.

Holtby, L.B. 1987. The effects of logging on the coho salmon of Carnation Creek, British Columbia. Pages 159-174 in Proceedings of the Workshop: Applying 15 Years of Carnation Creek Results, T.W. Chamberlin, editor. Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Last updated: December 7, 2012
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