Yogi In Yellowstone - An underwater robot could help restore native cutthroat in Yellowstone Lake

A remote controlled underwater robot could film features and collect samples in the depths of Yellowstone Lake making efforts to control invasive lake trout more productive.

By Jack Williams

Trout Unlimited and its partners utilize a variety of methods in attempts to restore Yellowstone cutthroat in Yellowstone National Park.

A unique tool could soon be added in efforts to remove nonnative lake trout in the massive lake in the world’s first national park.

An underwater robot known as “Yogi” may soon be exploring the cold, deep waters of Yellowstone Lake, but it will take a little help from the public.

An underwater formation in Yellowstone Lake. Courtesy Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration.

The National Park Service’s Science Panel Review of the lake trout control project in Yellowstone recently met for an interesting and positive session.

The panel, led by Dr. Bob Gresswell with the US Geological Survey, is tasked with advising Yellowstone Park staff on how to best control lake trout and restore Yellowstone cutthroat in Yellowstone Lake. I am honored to serve on the panel and find it to be fascinating work.

The National Park Service (NPS) continues to do a great job with netting lake trout, but it is a long haul to success. In 2015, the NPS spent more than $1.5 million to net just over 300,000 lake trout from the lake.  At that level of netting effort, we expect to see a crash in the lake trout population soon.  But with the cost so high, we are always looking for better ways to get the job done. 

People work to remove lake trout from nets set in Yellowstone Lake. Courtesy National Park Service.

Yogi,  an underwater remotely operated vehicle, is being developed by the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration as part of their program to explore “Large Lakes of the World.”

As we reviewed the Park Service’s strong efforts, it became clear we could be much more efficient in our lake trout control efforts if we could focus on the isolated spawning areas rather than chase lake trout all across Yellowstone Lake with gill nets.  About six or seven spawning sites are known in the lake, thanks largely to telemetry devices implanted in living lake trout to see areas the fish frequent.  That program is led by the US Geological Survey with strong support from Wyoming Trout Unlimited volunteer Dave Sweet.

Some of these locations are known as major spawning areas while others look rather marginal.  Unlike cutthroat trout that spawn in tributary streams, lake trout spawn in the lake, using mostly shallow outcroppings with large cobble substrates.  If we could hammer lake trout at their spawning areas – assuming we know which ones are highest priority – we could more easily get ahead of this game. 

Yogi could help big time.  Using this remotely operated robot, we can get high quality video from each suspected spawning site and can even sample eggs, embryos, and larvae of the lake trout.  That could be huge for our efforts and would compliment a range of tools now being developed to kill lake trout eggs in the spawning area.

A lucky angler with a Yellowstone cuthroat trout caught from the shores of Yellowstone Lake.

Yogi would also be used for research on unique geothermal features and creatures found around those areas in the lake.

I urge you to check out the video of this Kickstarter project and consider helping where you can. 

On behalf of the Yellowstone Lake Ecosystem, my thanks. 

Dr. Jack Williams is Trout Unlimited’s Senior Scientist. He is based out of Medford, Oregon.







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