DOW might expand efforts to collect salmon eggs

A forecast earlier this summer by the Colorado Division of Wildlife of a possible shortage of kokanee salmon eggs is becoming a reality.

With most of the egg-take operations around the state winding down, biologist are reporting the state has collected about 75 percent of the 12 million or so eggs needed to meet the various demands for the popular game fish.

So serious is the shortfall that the DOW is considering expanding its egg-taking operation to three reservoirs — Cheesman, Wolford Mountain and Shadow Mountain — not usually part of the fall salmon spawning programs.

“Expanding our egg-collection effort is necessary this year to improve our chances to collect enough eggs to sustain the state’s kokanee salmon populations,” said Greg Gerlich, DOW fisheries chief. “We are hopeful that we can still meet objectives by expanding to these other locations.”

One particularly sore spot is the comparatively small take at Roaring Judy Hatchery, which spawns fish running up from Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa historically produces the largest number of kokanee eggs, averaging close to 6 million a year, but this year the take was slightly more than 2.4 million.

Biologists blamed the anemic egg production on a general shortage of salmon and pointed to predation by lake trout as the leading reason.

“We’re wrapping up operations at Roaring Judy this week,” said Dan Brauch, DOW fisheries biologist in Gunnison. “We took only 11,000 eggs this week. The fish just haven’t been there to enable us to take more eggs than that.”

Since fish stocking began in Blue Mesa Reservoir in 1965, developing the kokanee salmon fishery has been the major priority of the DOW. Biologists believe a growing lake trout population is the primary cause for the declining kokanee population in the reservoir.

“Kokanee spawning and egg-collection efforts have remained stable in reservoirs where lake trout predation is not a factor,” Gerlich said. “This is why it’s imperative to establish a better balance between the lake trout and kokanee populations at Blue Mesa.”

The DOW last summer revealed a plan to net smaller lake trout, those under 30 inches, in an attempt to reduce predation on kokanee. With the netting project set to wind up next week, Brauch said approximately 650 lake trout have been removed.

“Occasionally we do lose fish over 30 inches but we’ve made some adjustments (in the netting process) to our soak time and the depth at which the nets are set,” Brauch said. Nets are set in water no deeper than 50 feet and checked every 45 minutes, Brauch said.

He said preliminary numbers indicate about 10 larger fish have been killed in the nets.

The egg take has improved in several reservoirs, including Granby, which a few years ago went through a salmon crisis of its own and failed to produce any eggs. Granby, where the kokanee spawn later than elsewhere in the state, already has yielded more than 1 million eggs, Brauch said.

That amount, along with smaller amounts from Williams Fork (approximately 2 million), McPhee (700,000) and Vallecito (2 million plus) reservoirs, should mean the state has enough to re-stock the vital brood lakes, Brauch said.

“Based on where we are right now, we still are quite a way short of meeting our own schedule,” he said. “If Granby continues to do well, we should have enough eggs to re-stock the non-brood waters.”

Storms bring ski season closer: Friday the 13th brought some luck to skiers as a major storm was forecast to drop snow on Colorado’s mountains.

By mid-day Friday more than 6 inches of new snow was reported at Steamboat Ski Resort, which plans a Nov. 25 opening.

Southwest Colorado, too, to, “was being pummelled,” reported Maryhelyn Kerwon of Telluride Ski Resort.

“There’s at least 5 inches on the ground and we’re expecting up a foot more,” Kerwin said.

Telluride is set to open Thanksgiving Day.

The four resorts already open — A-Basin, Copper Mountain, Loveland and Wolf Creek — all reported less than 2 inches of snow as of Friday morning, although the weather forecast calls for up to 12 inches or more in the central mountains and up to a foot or so on Grand Mesa.

Even if the storm doesn’t leave appreciable amounts of snow, the change in weather is a boon to all resorts because it brings temperatures low enough to resume snowmaking.


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