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Steelhead West Coast

Rainbow Trout Don’t Actually Exist

by John Larison   |  January 31st, 2012 1

It may sound crazy, but steelhead and rainbow trout are really the same creature.  More to the point, “rainbow trout” don’t actually exist.  Oncorhynchus mykiss is a type of salmon, one whose members sometimes stay in freshwater and sometimes descend to the sea, but those are behavioral decisions, not genetic ones.

If you find such a notion startlingly, your jaw might drop when you read “The Importance of Resident Steelhead (rainbow trout)” by Dick Burge posted on the Wild Steelhead Coalition’s website.  The article articulates why healthy resident steelhead populations are essential to recovering ocean-going (anadromous) steelhead populations, then goes on to explain why Washington state’s trout angling regulations are hindering steelhead recovery.  Consider this small excerpt:

“Resident steelhead spawn with anadromous steelhead throughout their range… Studies have shown that 20 to 40% of returning anadromous steelhead have at least one resident parent and often have two.”

Rainbow Trout

Photo courtesy of US EPA

That’s right.  Many wild steelhead have two “rainbow trout” for parents.

For the full article, and to learn more about the Wild Steelhead Coalition’s efforts, visit:

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