Rifle Gap Reservoir plan would help endangered fish
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has submitted its Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed Lake Management Plan to several agencies in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the wildlife agencies of the states of Utah and Wyoming. Approval by the agencies is the last required step to establish which species of fish will be stocked in the popular fishery.
The plan was crafted to follow procedures for stocking non-native fish species in the Upper Colorado River basin. The goal of the recovery program is to protect four endangered fish: the razorback sucker, bonytail chub, humpback chub and the Colorado pikeminnow, found only in the Upper Colorado basin.
“We developed the management plan with input we received at a public meeting in 2010 and comments we have received since then,” said Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “Public feedback was critical to form what we feel is a very good vision for future fisheries management of Rifle Gap.”
The reservoir currently features both cold and cool/warm water species, including rainbow and brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and black crappie. Walleye and smallmouth bass have self-sustained in the reservoir since they were stocked by the former Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1972, before the existence of the recovery program. No additional smallmouth bass, walleye, or any other cool/warm water species have been stocked by state wildlife managers since the initial introduction.
In the spring of 2013, an in-stream fish screen was built in Rifle Creek, downstream of the reservoir, to prevent non-native sport fish from escaping from the reservoir and threatening the four endangered fish species in Rifle Creek and the Colorado River.
Reservoir anglers may also benefit from the screen, as the opportunity to stock sport fish not currently stocked (i.e., black crappie, triploid walleye, yellow perch) could happen, pending approval of this plan.
If adopted as proposed, the plan would not allow stocking of smallmouth bass or northern pike. Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff will ask the parks and wildlife commission to remove the current, special regulations for smallmouth bass, which include bag, possession, and minimum size limits of two fish, 15 inches in length and a spawning closure.
Instead, the commissioners will be asked in September to impose bag and possession limits for smallmouth bass of five fish. Current special regulations for northern pike, which include bowfishing and spearfishing as additional manners of legal take, and unlimited bag and possession limits for this species, would continue to be enforced.
Until the proposed plan is approved, parks and wildlife workers may not stock any fish species, other than trout, in Rifle Gap.
“[Parks and Wildlife] will remain judicious in terms of which sport fish species will be stocked and managed as we continue our native fish recovery efforts,” said Northwest Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein. “That is our responsibility as partners in the program.”
As currently written, the proposed plan allows for the introduction and management of black crappie, yellow perch, rainbow and brown trout and triploid walleye, all non-native sport fish which are compatible with recovery program goals. The triploid version of walleye is sterile and typically grows faster than non-sterile walleye because energy is devoted to growth rather than reproduction. This makes the species attractive to many anglers, as well as the program.
“This is a good proposed plan and has the potential to lead to an even better fishery than we have now,” said Rifle Gap State Park Manager Brian Palcer. “[Parks and Wildlife] manages our parks and our wildlife together with the public’s input and cooperation and that worked well as the plan came together; however, we will also need cooperation from the public into the future to maintain Rifle Gap as a destination fishery.”
Officials add that public support will not only help with recovery efforts for native fish, it will also facilitate continuing efforts to bring quality sport fishing to Western Colorado.
“We have a biologically sound plan proposed for Rifle Gap,” said Area Wildlife Manager J.T. Romatzke. “We thank everyone that has contributed to this plan. We are doing what we can to give our anglers a variety of opportunities while simultaneously meeting the requirements of the recovery program.”
The Rifle Gap proposed plan will undergo a 60-day review process, with comments and revisions by other agencies before final approval.
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