John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wildlife officials in Utah frustrated with the ongoing problem of illegal fish stocking in lakes, rivers and reservoirs may require anglers to kill some nonnative species they catch.
The catch-and-kill regulations, proposed to take effect next year on two northern Utah lakes, are a new approach for Western states struggling with waters ruined by fish that don’t belong in specific waterways, such as the northern pike, smallmouth bass and yellow perch. The species occur naturally in some areas, but can destroy ecosystems in others.
The intent of the program is less about eradicating the problem and more to educate people about the impact, which the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says is far worse than poachers who shoot big game animals.
Eliminating a non-native fish often requires draining a reservoir or poisoning all the fish in the effected part of a lake or river and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said DWR’s Drew Cushing.
“It’s a really severe problem throughout the West, and it seems like it just keeps getting worse,” Cushing said. “The catch-and-kill rule is unique, but we want people to understand that just about the worse thing they can do with these fish is release them.”
Cushing said while educating fisherman is the primary purpose of the catch-and-kill rule, they are looking into requiring the people who purposely dump illegal fish to pay for the clean-up. Most nonnative fish are put into waters by people who release them from their aquariums or fishermen who want their favorite sport species close to home.
Even with penalties in place, like in Idaho where the illegal stockers are forced to pay for eradication, catching them can be difficult, said Ed Schriever, chief of fisheries for the Idaho Department Fish and Game. But it is one of the ways in which Idaho officials have battled the problem.
Idaho, for example, prohibits the transport of live fish without a commercial permit, Schriever said. They also have removed the size and bag limits on nonnative fish throughout the state, a step Utah is also taking on some southern reservoirs and rivers where smallmouth bass are a problem.
Educating people is an important step but it may not be the most effective approach, Schriever said.
“There may be some people in 2011 who don’t know this is an illegal activity,” he said. “But there are people who want their fish in their water and don’t care about the implications.”
Nevada officials are currently dealing with yellow perch and northern pike infestations in reservoirs near Ely and Elko, said Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy.
They have tried to encourage anglers to help fix the problem by removing limits, although fish like the northern pike are so prolific that they seem to reproduce faster than they can be hooked. Healy said the department has also used some predatory hybrid fish that don’t reproduce.
The most effective answer for at least some reservoirs, however, seems to be “draining it and starting over,” Healy said.