New regulations may mean less fish

DOW changes policy to slow spread of whirling disease among Colorado trout

Fishermen on the Western Slope may have lighter creel this summer due to changes in the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) stocking policy.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission, which oversees the DOW, took steps to protect against another outbreak of whirling disease.

Whirling disease afflicts some species of trout and salmon. It can be fatal and is found in newly hatched rainbow trout in some of the state rivers. Hatcheries may also harbor the parasite that causes whirling disease.

The Wildlife Commission approved regulations requiring that trout kept in private hatcheries less than 10 months undergo a highly sensitive DNA-based test. If the test is positive, a second test will be required to determine if the hatchery is positive for whirling disease. Both state and private hatcheries that test positive may stock trout in only a limited number of waters that already have been infected with whirling disease.

According to the DOW, agency hatcheries already undergo the most stringent testing of any hatcheries in the United States.

According to Marianna Raftopoulos, Wildlife Comm-ission member, the changes may affect the number of fish caught by Western Slope anglers this year. It is possible the DOW will not stock Type B waters (waters that have previously been exposed to whirling disease, typically lakes, ponds and reservoirs) with fish that come from hatcheries that have tested positive. In the past, the only type of water that was not stocked with fish from contaminated hatcheries was Type A water (high mountain streams and lakes never exposed to whirling disease).

According to Raftopoulous, steps have been taken to ensure some Type B water does get stocked this year. The commission has approved a measure to spend its remaining discretionary fund to buy uncontaminated fish for Type B waters. The amount remaining is $129,000.

"The decision to not stock Type B water will affect the Western Slope," said Raftopoulos. "We are doing what we can to purchase fish that have tested negative."

Raftopoulos was not sure how many fish the $129,000 would buy.

Other fishing policy changes are being considered.

The DOW aquatic staff has begun identifying issues that will be considered by the Wildlife Commission as it develops its proposal for the five-year fishing regulations. These issues will be finalized at the Wildlife Commission meeting in July. The Wildlife Commission will take final action at the November meeting.

The aquatic staff wants to simplify regulations and improve public understanding of them. Anglers and citizens will be involved with the process, according to Eddi Kochman, DOW aquatic wildlife manager. The new five-year regulations will concentrate on a mix of recreational angling opportunities as directed by the state fish management policy.

"First and foremost is a commitment to protect the aquatic resources," said Kochman.

The three principals the DOW will focus on were developed during roundtable meetings last summer and fall throughout the state of Colorado.

Along with trout hatcheries, the Wildlife Commission also took a significant step in protecting prairie dogs.

The commission voted unanimously for the DOW staff to prepare recommendations for the May meeting on a proposal to establish a bag limit and season dates for prairie dog hunting and to review the use of toxicants used to kill prairie dogs. Also requested was an analysis of possible inconsistencies between wildlife and agricultural regulations that govern prairie dog management and the control of rodent pests.

Boulder environmentalist Jim McKee was the catalyst for the preparations of the regulations. Current regulations allow hunters to kill an unlimited number of prairie dogs year-round.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled the black-tailed prairie dog warrants listing under the federal endangered species act.

McKee believes the adoption of bag limits and a season on prairie dogs would not affect landowners' ability to kill prairie dogs if they are pests, but would prevent the species from being listed under the endangered species act in the future.

"This is a small step that could prevent the black-tailed prairie dog from being listed by the federal government as a threatened species," said McKee.

Raftopoulos agrees it is important to keep the federal government from getting involved with prairie dog protection.

"We feel it is best to be pro-active and develop a plan on a state basis rather than a federal basis," said Raftopoulos. "Keeping it on a state level allows for more public input and will give landowners more of a say in land use issues."

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