Endangered pikeminnow netted in De Beque

An endangered fish blocked off from the upper reaches of the Colorado River for nearly a century has been captured in De Beque Canyon, above the new Price-Stubb fish passage.

The dam, built in 1911, has prevented the migration of the Colorado pikeminnow, known to early residents of the Grand Valley as “white salmon” for their travels, from visiting the highest part of their range.

The range was reopened in April 2008 with the completion of a $10 million, 900-foot-long, fish passage just upstream from the mouth of De Beque Canyon.

The capture of a 26-inch, two-pound adult male on April 22 showed the species, also once called the Colorado squawfish, had negotiated the fish passage and was moving upstream.

The capture is significant “because it demonstrates fish have regained access to historic habitat that was blocked for almost a century,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Bob Burdick said. “This Colorado pikeminnow is the first of its kind that we’ve detected in that river reach” since biologists began sampling at the Grand Valley
Project Diversion Dam for pikeminnow and the endangered razorback sucker.

The most recent estimates are the Colorado River and the lowest reach of the Gunnison River are home to about 900 pikeminnow.

Biologists don’t yet know whether the pikeminnow was alone or with others of its species.

Once the fish reach the Grand Valley fish ladder, where they are identified and sorted before being released to swim upstream, biologists will learn more of their habits, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tom Czapla said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program under a partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water developers, power customers and environmental groups.

The pikeminnow captured in April is “a fairly old fish” that is relatively well known to biologists after it was captured in the Green River near Ouray, Utah, on May 10, 1995.

It has swum at least 447 miles during the ensuing years and was recaptured five more times in various sections of the Colorado River.

The fish was 7 to 10 years old when it was first tagged, and biologists believe individuals live to about 40 years of age. Biologists also are celebrating the return of the razorback sucker to a section of the Yampa River, where the species hasn’t been seen for 30 years.

Researchers captured a 17-inch, 1.7-pound, 7-year-old adult razorback sucker in the Yampa near Lily Park, about seven miles upstream of Dinosaur National Monument.

Fish and Wildlife Service biologists stocked the hatchery-raised fish as a 2-year-old juvenile in the Green River near Green River, Utah, in 2004. During the next five years, it traveled 280 miles upstream and grew six inches.

“We have some good evidence that our stocking is starting to result in what we’re looking for,” Czapla said.


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