How Pelicans Are Helping Utah Anglers Land More Prized Trout

by Victoria Santiago
how-pelicans-are-helping-utah-anglers-land-more-prized-trout

Fishing out west just got better. Pelicans that live near a popular fishery in Utah have actually been helping anglers catch trout in the lake. When we think of those funny-looking birds, we probably picture them gulping down fish. Looks like they aren’t doing too much of that in the Beehive State.

In fact, a team at Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources has been researching the relationship that pelicans have with some of their prey. In this case, the research centers around their relationship with cutthroat trout. As it turns out, the big birds simply aren’t interested in the same fish that anglers are.

Pelicans In Utah Hunt Other Fish

The best example of this interesting bird-fish relationship can be found at Strawberry Reservoir. The 27-square mile manmade lake lies a little southeast of Salt Lake City and is UT’s most popular fishery. It’s even part of the state’s Blue Ribbon Fisheries program. 1.5 million hours of fishing are logged at the lake every year.

Strawberry Reservoir has long been the place to catch prized cutthroat trout. In fact, the lake’s reputation goes all the way back to 1930. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, a lucky lady caught the state record non-native cutthroat in the lake. It weighed a whopping 26 pounds 12 ounces.

So, every year, anglers and pelicans alike flock to the manmade lake. Anglers are on the lookout for prize cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and even kokanee salmon. On the other hand, pelicans have their eye on the unwanted fish. Instead of going for a sizable trout, these birds are preying on native suckers and chubs.

Anglers Are Looking To Catch Trout, and Pelicans Just Want Food

This interesting dinner choice was discovered by researchers that were wondering why cutthroat trout populations changed so much in the lake. The trout are well established in the reservoir and its system of streams, so scientists were curious why their numbers were changing so much. In the past two decades alone, the population of adult fish in the lake has ranged from 220,000 to 464,000.

To see if pelicans were the cause of this significant difference, researchers decided to capture some of them. Over two years, the team captured birds and studied what they had been eating. Interestingly enough, cutthroat trout only made up 3% of the birds’ diets.

According to F&S, Utah sucker made up almost 100% of what the birds ate. To be specific, their diet was made up of 85% sucker, 6% Utah chub, and then 3% of our prized trout. The numbers changed a little bit based on the time of the year. However, it’s clear that pelicans don’t want anything to do with the fish we want.

By mainly eating these competing native fish, pelicans could actually be helping anglers land the fish that they’re hoping for.

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