“There is a lot of interest in this issue and we want to make sure people understand our management plans,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the DOW's southwest region. “Anglers can submit questions through the Q and A section of the web page and we'll provide answers that will be posted. Rather than responding to every question the DOW is receiving individually, the web site will allow more immediate feedback for our constituents and will let everyone see the answers.”
The DOW is planning to remove some lake trout that are 30 inches and smaller in size. Larger fish will be released.
DOW officials stated previously that 5,000 lake trout might be removed. However, because the DOW has never removed fish from the reservoir, no target number will be used this year. Biologists will be working to locate fish and test removal techniques during the first year. Population monitoring work for the salmon and trout, as always, will be conducted during the spring and summer.
“We have a lot to learn and we'll be going slowly this fall,” Alves said. “We'll know a lot more next summer after we evaluate the removal operation and the spring population monitoring work.”
Blue Mesa Reservoir, located west of Gunnison, is a very productive fishery and the primary water for kokanee salmon production in the state. Production of kokanee salmon has always been the No. 1 priority for the fishery and will continue to be. The reservoir, however, is home to a growing population of lake trout – predator fish that are contributing to the decline in the kokanee population. Rainbow trout survival is also falling due to lake trout predation. At the same time, based on findings from annual netting surveys, the overall body condition of lake trout is declining because competition for food among the fish is increasing.
“We're losing kokanee and we're losing the potential for long-term production of trophy-sized lake trout,” Alves said. “The DOW's strategy is aimed at maintaining a highly productive kokanee fishery, a good rainbow trout fishery and a viable trophy lake trout fishery. Without a strong population of kokanee salmon there is no possibility of growing lake trout to trophy size. There is room for all the species in the lake, but careful management is necessary.”
The situation at Blue Mesa is also a problem for 26 other lakes and reservoirs in Colorado that depend on stocked kokanee salmon raised from eggs produced at the reservoir. Blue Mesa provides about 60 percent of the eggs needed to stock 10 million kokanee fingerlings in the Colorado waters each year. Stocking of kokanee statewide will likely be reduced if the annual spawn take at Blue Mesa continues to decline. The value of kokanee fishing in Colorado is valued at $29 million annually.
Balancing the fishery at Blue Mesa Reservoir for the benefit of resident and non-resident anglers is the goal of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. To learn more about managing the fishery at this important Colorado fishing destination, go to the web page at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing.