Grand Canyon releases plan to aid native fish

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The Colorado River, with its once warm and muddy waters, used to be home to eight native fish species. The creation of Glen Canyon Dam near the Arizona-Utah border helped change that, making the environment less than ideal for spawning.

A handful of the fish species remain, and Grand Canyon National Park has laid out a road map for their survival. A 20-year fisheries management plan released this week puts into place measures to protect those fish, while ensuring anglers in an adjacent National Park Service recreation unit have plenty of non-native trout to catch below the dam.

Biologists and volunteers would boost populations of endangered humpback chub by taking those reared in hatcheries and placing them in select Grand Canyon creeks. They'll also limit the chances that the chub and the trout will interact downstream by sometimes stunning the trout and removing them. Then, the trout would be made available for human consumption to partially satisfy the concerns of American Indian tribes.

The strategies are nothing new. Rather than experimental, they're now part of a long-term plan.

"We've seen good growth and adequate survival. We're just starting to see reproduction," said Brian Healy, the Grand Canyon's fisheries program manager. "But we need a longer time frame for monitoring to try to determine if they are going to reproduce or not and establish a second reproducing population."

Grand Canyon officials also plan to study habitat for the endangered razorback sucker on the landmark's far western edge near Lake Mead in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which lies mostly in Nevada. The fish had been one of the most widespread and abundant of the big-river fish in the Colorado River basin, but few have been spotted swimming in the lower reaches.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub and roundtail chub are considered gone from the Grand Canyon region. Healy said Grand Canyon officials have considered reintroducing the pike minnow, but a feasibility study is needed.

The Grand Canyon fisheries management plan comes ahead of the expected summertime release of a draft operations plan for Glen Canyon Dam. Healey said Grand Canyon officials set up the fisheries plan to be somewhat reactive, laying out different scenarios based on what could be included in the Glen Canyon plan.

One of those is stocking sterile rainbow trout for the fishery at Lees Ferry if it suffers from other actions in the plan. Doing so would keep the fishery in business, but it likely would be less attractive for recreation than having nothing but wild fish, said Jeff English, a longtime fishing guide at Lees Ferry.

"If you're an angler or a fisherman, that's a shinier badge to wear," he said.

John Jordan, who represented recreational fishing interests in helping develop the plan, praised officials for including various viewpoints from the beginning of the discussion and evaluating concerns.

"It's successful from the standpoint of recognizing conservation elements, which is important to restoring to the extent possible native fish, while still being able to support a recreational fishery," he said.

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