CPW, Craig community discusses net over Elkhead Reservoir spillway
Craig — Colorado Parks and Wildlife hosted a public meeting Thursday to discuss putting a net over the spillway at Elkhead Reservoir to prevent non-native predators from seeping into the Yampa River and eating endangered fish.
For years, Parks and Wildlife officials have been trying to increase the population of endangered fish that reside in the Yampa as mandated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — a branch of the federal government that manages the Endangered Species Act.
Conversations at the meeting surrounded electro-shocking non-native fish in the Yampa River and netting the reservoir spillway versus administering a poison called rotenone at Elkhead to kill non-natives only to re-stock it with non-threatening fish. The meeting took place at Craig City Council chambers.
The issue surrounds two fish in Elkhead, the northern pike and the smallmouth bass, that escape the reservoir and eat young and mature endangered fish — the humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and the bonytail.
Most of Craig’s community supports using the net as opposed to trying the rotenone option, but not everyone thinks the net alone will accomplish full recovery.
Burt Clements, member of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program committee, said he thinks the net is a waste of money without other measures, too.
“It’s a waste of money, but let’s do it,” Clements said. “It’s not going to solve the problem because they’ve reached the wall on the program in the river. They’ve taken out what they can take out and they can’t keep up with reproduction in the river.”
Clements suggests stocking native adult fish “by the thousands” in the upper parts of the Yampa River in addition to using the net. He also advocates for CPW to stop shocking the Yampa River each spring.
“They’re killing their own fish,” he said.
The shocking techniques were evaluated carefully to assure the right voltage, waveform and pulse rate are used to cause minimal damage to native species said Sherman Hebein, senior aquatic biologist at CPW.
“Any sampling technique we do, if anybody told you we weren’t doing some harm, they’d be lying to you,” said Tom Chart, director of the recovery effort. Chart said the recovery program isn’t all about non-native fish removal, either. Other techniques the CPW employs include stocking endangered fish, river flow management and habitat restoration, to name a few.
Tom Bowser, a concerned Craig citizen and fisherman who grew up in his father’s house next to the Yampa River and Elkhead Reservoir, said he’s in support of the net more than the rotenone. Killing all of the fish in the reservoir would ruin the great fishing opportunities, he said.
“We’re catching bluegill and crappie and smallmouth,” Bowser said. “It’s the best it’s ever been. In the 80s we never caught fish like we are catching now.”
Bowser lived next to the river and reservoir for about 25 years and still spends the majority of his summers on the reservoir fishing. He said he sees folks from all over the state of Colorado return each summer to fish in the Elkhead Reservoir.
“I know a guy who comes up for a whole week at a time from Bennett; that’s a long way,” Bowser said. “He said it’s the best place in the state to catch fish.”
The net is not the cheapest solution and takes longer to solve the non-native fish problem, said Kevin McAbee, non-native fish coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “But we are willing to compromise, because we heard the community say they did not want to do the rotenone.”
There’s one central goal of the recovery program, he said.
“Eradication in the reservoir, or as dang close to it as we can get, is where we’re going,” McAbee said.
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