Efforts to boost populations of native fish in effect this spring
Anglers should not be alarmed if they see nets or screens up in local ponds and reservoirs this spring as Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues its Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. In order to save four endangered species of fish native to the Colorado River, non-native invasive species, such as northern pike, will be caught and killed.
“Not everyone may appreciate native fish,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region Public Information Officer Mike Porras said. “These fish only exist in this part of the world. We are working hard to recover these fish.”
Porras said northern pike have been discovered in several private gravel pit ponds east of Rifle. In Rifle Gap Reservoir an existing screen has been put into place to prevent these illicit non-native fish getting into Rifle Creek, from which they could end up in the Colorado River.
Northern pike, smallmouth bass and some walleye are among species of non-native fish that can cause problems for native fish populations.
The four species of native fish protected through the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program are humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback suckers.
“The main concern is successful recovery of native fish to where we have self-sustaining populations,” Porras said. “We have determined that these fish are in-part responsible. All entities are working together.”
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program partners include the states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.
While the program started in 1988, these fish species have been listed as endangered for decades. Humpback chub were given full protection through the Endangered Species Act in 1973, bonytail in 1980, pikeminnow in 1973 and razorback suckers in 1991.
“Part of their decline has been attributed to non-native fish interacting with them,” said Lori Martin, senior aquatic biologist for the Northwest Region Aquatics for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Through both predation and competing with them for resources.”
Often, avid fishermen and anglers will stock these fish species in local ponds and reservoirs because they provide the best sport fishing opportunities. However, the problem is when these fish get out into forks and streams that lead into the Colorado River.
“A lot of backlash of this program comes from anglers,” Porras said. “Most anglers are responsible, but occasionally someone stocks non-native fish where they shouldn’t be. This must be done within the constraints of the program.”
In the past, sterile sport fish have been stocked in local ponds and reservoirs as a potential replacement to northern pike.
“What we try to do is provide sport fishing opportunities with fish species that are compatible with native fish,” Martin said.
She added sterile walleye and tiger muskie have been stocked up at Rifle Gap reservoir to give residents sport fishing opportunities.
“As long as there are appropriate mechanisms in place, we can stock those ponds with more compatible species,” she said.
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