Changes to Duck Fork Reservoir will benefit Colorado River cutthroat trout
Anglers visiting Duck Fork Reservoir in southeastern Utah recently have noticed two major changes. First, the reservoir is in the process of draining. It's about half drained and should reach its dead storage volume of about 80-acre feet within another two to four weeks.
Second, some emergency fishing regulation changes have been posted. The new regulations are very liberal, allowing anglers with a valid Utah fishing license to keep up to 16 trout, and to use any legal bait. Formerly the limit was two trout and fish had to be caught with artificial flies or lures.
Why the management changes? They are part of a plan by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the United States Forest Service to remove nonnative fish from the reservoir and turn it into a brood lake for southeastern Utah's only native trout species. That unique species is the Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Having a brood lake will allow the DWR to annually produce large numbers of Colorado River cutthroat trout for conservation and sport fish stocking purposes.
Adult fish will be trapped during the spring spawning season in Duck Fork Creek, the reservoir's major tributary. Eggs will then be extracted from the fish, fertilized and transported to a hatchery. After the eggs hatch, fish will be raised to fry or fingerling size and then stocked.
"Without a brood lake for Colorado River cutthroat trout, there would be an increased likelihood of this rare species becoming federally listed as threatened or endangered," said Louis Berg, aquatic manager for the DWR southeastern region. "Also, fishing opportunities for cutthroat trout would dwindle in southeastern Utah."
During 2000 the DWR, in cooperation with numerous other agencies, made a decision to discontinue stocking nonnative cutthroat trout and require all subsequent stocking to be with Colorado River cutthroat trout.
"Additional management actions will be necessary to establish a brood lake at Duck Fork Reservoir," Berg added. "Application of rotenone to the reservoir and its tributaries will be needed to completely eradicate nonnative cutthroat trout, which readily interbreed with Colorado River cutthroat trout and would reduce their genetic purity."
Berg says the DWR hopes to perform the rotenone treatment project in September, after draining of the reservoir is complete and anglers have had an opportunity to harvest most of the fish.
Berg says use of rotenone and introduction of Colorado River cutthroat trout are supported by the results of an angler survey, and have been approved by the Sanpete County Commission, the Emery County Commission, the Emery County Public Lands Council, the Southeastern Regional Wildlife Advisory Council, the Utah Wildlife Board and the Utah Fish Health Policy Board.
"An application proposing these actions was sent to the State Resource Development Coordinating Committee," Berg said. "The Six County Association of Governments and Southeastern Association of Governments reviewed the application and had no comments."
Although rotenone use is already considered a state-approved action, a final decision on its use will not be made until responses to the environmental assessment are evaluated. Berg says that decision will be made by the DWR southeastern region supervisor.
"The USFS hopes to construct a concrete fish spawning trap on Duck Fork Creek, and to make changes in road and trail use that would facilitate administrative access to the trap during the fish spawning season," Berg explained. "These actions could occur as early as this fall, but would more likely take place in fall 2003. They are described in detail in the environmental assessment. Decisions on the actions will be made by the forest supervisor."
Berg says refilling of Duck Fork Reservoir will begin the same time the rotenone treatment project occurs. Colorado River cutthroat trout will be stocked after natural dilution and detoxification of rotenone occurs, probably by late October.
"Anglers should note that the current emergency fishing regulations will end on October 1," Berg advised. "At that time, tackle restrictions requiring the use of artificial flies and lures will take effect again, and the reservoir and tributaries will be closed to the possession of cutthroat trout."
"Duck Fork Reservoir has an exciting future," Berg said. "It will remain a quality cutthroat trout fishery, but with a unique and beautiful subspecies of cutthroat trout that can grow as large or larger than the present subspecies. The DWR intends to continue stocking tiger trout as a species that anglers can harvest."
Anyone who wants more information on the Duck Fork brood lake project may contact Berg at 636-0268.