Wildlife officials in Utah say people who place fish in waters where the species don’t belong are doing more damage than poachers who illegally shoot big-game animals.
To combat the problem of illegal fish stocking, the Utah Wildlife Board earlier this month approved no-limit and catch-and-kill rules for several waters and species in the state. The rules allow anglers to keep as many fish as they want, and require them to kill any catch of a target species from a given body of water.
The board approved the regulations for the following species and waters in southern and central Utah: Smallmouth bass in Quail Creek, Sand Hollow and Gunlock reservoirs and the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers; Black bullhead catfish in Deer Creek Reservoir; and Northern pike in Utah Lake.
Drew Cushing, sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the agency will no longer manage fish that are placed illegally in a body of water.
“Two tools we have to fight illegal fish stocking are no limit and catch-and-kill regulations,” he said. “We want illegally stocked fish removed as quick as possible.”
He said the new regulations are just the first of many ideas DWR biologists are discussing to fight illegal fish stocking in Utah. They are continuing the discussions throughout this month to determine which ideas they might want to implement next.
All of the fishing rules the board approved for the state’s 2012 season will be available in the 2012 Utah Fishing Guidebook. The guidebook should be available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks in early December.
Cushing said illegal fish stocking hurts anglers in several ways. First, introducing a fish species that isn’t already found in a body of water can affect the ecosystem of the entire waterbody. Good fishing can deteriorate quickly for fish that were already in the body of water before the illegal stocking happened.
Sometimes the only way to remove illegally stocked fish is to kill all of the fish in a body of water and start over again with new fish. Treatments to kill fish can cost hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars. The money the DWR has to spend on the treatment could have been used to improve fishing at other waters in Utah and raise more fish in the DWR’s hatcheries.
After a treatment project happens, it takes a few years before fishing is good again at the water that was treated. Until then, anglers are forced to find another place to fish.
Those who own businesses near a body of water where fish have been stocked illegally can lose revenue as fishing deteriorates and anglers leave to fish other waters.
Finally, illegal fish stocking can hurt threatened and endangered fish in the state.
Cushing said those who move fish illegally hurt Utah’s wildlife more than those who poach deer or elk.
“In terms of money and the number of people illegal fish stocking affects,” he says, “those who move fish from one body of water to another do a lot more damage.”