Utah anglers urged to keep limit from some streams

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Anglers urged to keep limit

Crowded rivers causing fish to starve

By Ray Grass, Deseret News outdoor editor

5/7/02


Fishermen cast on the Provo. Utah anglers release most of their catch.

Ray Grass, Deseret News

     Catch and release is fine, but keeping a few fish is OK — really. In fact, on some waters it's imperative fishermen shed old mores and keep rather than release fish.

Some of the state's most popular fishing waters, such as the Provo, Ogden and Blacksmith Fork rivers, and Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge, need relief. There are too many fish and not enough food, and as a result the fish are small and in come cases starving.

     In the Provo, for example, fish are in such poor condition going into the spawn they are dying from the stress of breeding or from secondary diseases, such as bacterial and fungus infections.

     "It's been engrained in our fishermen for so long to catch and release, it's going to be very difficult to get them to change," said Tom Pettengill, director of sports fisheries for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "Our release rate has never been so high."

     A survey in 2000 showed the average angler returned 73 percent of the fish caught. With trout, the return rate is higher — 77 percent.

     "That means eight out of every 10 fish caught is being released. We need to reach a balance," continued Pettengill. "In places where we need a reduction, anglers should not release so many fish."

     In some cases, the DWR has liberalized limits to encourage fishermen to keep fish. But as Pettengill pointed out, "If fishermen aren't keeping fish, it doesn't do us any good to put out more liberal limits."

     On the Provo, the problem areas include the middle section from Jordanelle to Deer Creek, and the blue-ribbon section below Deer Creek. The limit there is somewhat restrictive — two brown trout under 15 inches — "But even if they keep the two fish, it would help," Pettengill added.

     The Ogden faces the same problem as the Provo, which is that the fish are skinny, small and in some cases showing signs of starvation. Still, he said, "If someone sees a fisherman coming off the Ogden with a string of fish, it seems I get a call complaining."

     Restrictions on Blacksmith have been eased in an attempt to stop stunting, a condition where the fish stop growing because of inadequate food.

     On Flaming Gorge the limit on lake trout or mackinaw has, over the past several years, jumped from two to four, "and still it's difficult to get fishermen to keep fish. And not necessarily the big ones, but even if they'd take a few of the smaller ones it would help," he added.

     The walleye populations at Yuba and Starvation reservoirs have also been growing to where they've wiped out their food source. To reduce walleye numbers at Starvation, the DWR started a program two years ago to net and remove fish. In two years, more than 9,000 walleye have been taken out of the lake.

At Lake Powell, the problem is twofold — striped bass and now smallmouth bass. For years biologists have tried to balance striped bass with their food source — shad. To encourage harvest, the limit on striped bass was removed. Now, smallmouth face a similar problem. The limit was bumped up this year from 10 to 20 fish to encourage harvest.

     The problem actually goes deeper than simply keeping a few fish on some waters.

     On the Provo, for example, the problem is compounded by the fact that the browns — the fish in greatest numbers — are not particularly easy to catch. Only the better fishermen, the ones more inclined to release fish, are the ones most likely to catch browns.

     Biologists face the same problem with respect to lake trout in Flaming Gorge. They are not the easiest fish to catch.

     At Starvation, the objective behind keeping walleye numbers down is to allow Utah chubs, a very unpopular trash fish but the only food source for walleye, to recover. As it is now, there are a lot of older chubs that are still reproducing but very few younger fish able to move up to take their place should they die.

     "We're trying to get some of the younger fish to survive to become adults so that one day we don't wake up and find all the forage fish in the reservoir gone," explained Pettengill.

     In Yuba, the overpopulation of walleye is running out of perch to eat. During the past winter, anglers lashed hundreds of Christmas trees together and sunk them in the reservoir in hopes of creating hiding places for smaller fish to hide from predators.

     At this point, says Pettengill, it becomes a "long, drawn-out educational process. Sure, releasing fish may make people feel good, but in some cases it does nothing for the resource. We've got to get people to realize it is OK to keep fish in some cases. And, just because someone does keep a few fish, other anglers shouldn't look down on them.

     "The pendulum has swung too far one way. Now we've got to bring it back to center."
     In some cases it may take changes in regulations. But, again, as Pettengill said, if fishermen refuse to put a fish or two in the creel, more lenient regulations do little to help the resource.



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E-mail: grass@desnews.com
 

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