OUT: Whitefish targeted for special regs
One of Colorado’s least-known native fish species received some much-needed protection Thursday from the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
Mountain whitefish are the Rodney Dangerfield of sportfish, their introduction usually prefaced with “the lowly.”
But whitefish are a native species, Colorado’s other salmonid native species in addition to cutthroat trout, and a fish that has fed and entertained generations of anglers.
At its meeting Thursday in Colorado Springs, the wildlife commission responded to concerns about declining whitefish populations by instituting bag and possession limits on whitefish in the upper Yampa River drainage.
Concern over whitefish populations first rose several years ago in Wyoming, where some biologists suspected whirling disease was the cause of suspected declines in whitefish populations.
More recently, reports of whitefish declines in the Yampa River have raised the interest of Division of Wildlife biologists, who now are looking at several contributing factors.
“We heard from anglers and long-time ranchers in the valley that they weren’t seeing as many whitefish,” said Billy Atkinson, DOW aquatics biologist in Steamboat Springs. “It’s a combination of possible causes, including habitat fragmentation, whirling disease and pike predation.”
There now are five reservoirs on the upper Yampa that impact whitefish migrations, Atkinson said.
“They migrate to spawning areas and summer areas and back down to winter areas, so the dams have had an impact on that movement,” he said.
He has found several populations of the fish isolated between dams, such as the seven-mile reach between Catamount Lake and Stagecoach Reservoir. Recent high-water years seem to have improved the spawning success of those isolated populations.
“I have an electro-fishing station at the base of Stagecoach Reservoir and this year I saw a couple of spawning whitefish,” Atkinson said. “In 2005, which was another good water year, there seemed to be blip in whitefish reproduction, also.”
One major concern is pike predation. That toothy critter has spread through most of the system and Atkinson, local anglers and private landowners are looking at ways to pare back the pike numbers.
“This weekend we had a fantastic volunteer effort on the Yampa, increasing flows in some places and removing backwater habitat,” Atkinson said. “And we’ve been removing some pike from Catamount to reduce that source of pike.”
While some anglers might shrug at the efforts to protect a fish that often is treated like a second-class citizen, the fish’s native status and its continuing appeal makes it worth saving.
“There still are a lot of ranchers in the area who remember living on whitefish during hard times,” Atkinson said. “And a lot of people still like to smoke and can whitefish.
“We felt the regulations not only will protect the population but also send the message we’re concerned about whitefish numbers.”
The wildlife commission adopted a four-fish bag limit on whitefish in the upper Yampa starting at the confluence of the Elk River.
Elk, deer hunting important to hunters
According to a recent survey prepared for the DOW, 80 percent of elk hunters and 83 percent of deer hunters taking the survey said their 2007 hunt was either “most important” or “one of their more important” recreational activities of the year. Elk hunters further responded that the availability of over-the-counter licenses was “very important” in their choice of hunting season and for providing hunting opportunity in Colorado.
The survey was sent to 4,000 resident elk hunters and was presented as part of the ongoing Big Game Season Structure planning for the 2010-2014 seasons.
Other factors surveyed included interference from other hunters, length of seasons, and season preference.
If you have questions about the Big Game Season Structure, the opportunity to ask is during Tuesday’s meeting of the northwest region Sportsmen’s Advisory Group at the DOW Hunter Education Building, 711 Independent Ave.
The meeting runs 6 to 8 p.m. and is designed to allow DOW officials talk about issues that interest you.
“We don’t head into these meetings with a set agenda,” said Ron Velarde, DOW Northwest Regional Manager. “The goal is to let the public bring topics to us. We want to hear their concerns, comments and questions.”