A day electroshock fishing with CPW
Since mid-April, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Aquatic Biologist Cory Noble and a crew of seasonal fishery technicians have been electroshocking non-native fish in the Yampa River that eat endangered fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Noble and his team are on the frontline of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s effort to protect native, endangered fish in the Colorado River Basin and the fight is not an easy one.
Adding to the stress are those in the Yampa Valley who disagree with what they’re doing, but the crew still has to move along and follow procedure.
Long days on the Yampa are compounded by consistent mechanical issues with watercraft and the tedious task of documenting every fish netted out of the river.
Captaining a shock boat is no easy task, either.
“It’s a skill,” said Noble. “Both hands are pretty busy all the time.”
On Thursday morning, Noble and a team of seven CPW techs and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife rangeland management specialist set out of Rifle and arrived at the Duffy Mountain boat ramp near Hayden shortly before 9 a.m.
Two hours later, the group was still at the boat ramp after one of the two shock boats’ motors suffered a mechanical malfunction, which the team could not repair on site.
“I think there’s only two days when a boat hasn’t broken,” said Noble. “It’s been tough.”
Despite the setback, the electroshock fishers sent part of the crew home and continued with just two boats.
A typical electroshock fishing excursion consists of three boats — two shock boats that hit both banks on a section of river before delivering their catch to the single chase boat. Each boat usually has a crew of three people.
The shock boats dangle two metal balls hung from the bow into the river to act as the anodes while the boat itself is the cathode. The result is an electric field that stuns the fish, allowing them to be netted by electrofishers.
On the chase boat, length, weight, species and location of where the fish is caught is recorded. Nonnatives are killed with an anesthetic after they’re brought into the boat, and natives are placed back in the river, usually after being tagged.
Being down one shock boat means slower fishing and covering less river miles.
“Hopefully we can get a few miles in today,” said Noble.
Noble hopes to be done with this season’s electrofishing on the Yampa next week.
The crew primarily caught and removed white suckers from the river with some northern pike and smallmouth bass in the mix as well. The northern pike and smallmouth bass are the main nonnatives killing four engaged fish that CPW is tasked with saving — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
All nonnatives are killed and disposed of at the landfill.
White suckers are removed because they provide competition for native fish and can mate with native suckers to create hybrids.
Native wish, like the flannelmouth sucker and trout, are returned to the river after their data is recorded.
To improve the populations of the endangered fish in the Yampa River and continue to act as the compliance mechanism for the Endangered Species Act, the recovery program is installing a net on the reservoir to help prevent spillage of predatory nonnatives into the Yampa where the endangered fish live and thrive.
A nine-day fishing tournament offering prizes totaling about $6,000 is scheduled to recruit anglers for the purpose of purging the lake of pike and smallmouth. The tournament begins Saturday and ends June 19.
The information collected by Noble and his crew while they’re out shocking nonnative fish is put into annual reports that are presented to recovery program officials.
At the end of the day, Noble and his team netted 107 non-native fish on Thursday and covered three miles of river. It was considered a short day, heading out from Craig around 7 a.m. and returning to boat ramp shortly before 6 p.m.
Allan Hischke is one of several Moffat County residents who has a problem with how CPW is handleing the fish recovery program.
“This fish killing activity also effects the environment, by forcing those that want to go fishing travel to places many miles from Craig,” Hischke recently said in an email
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:29 a.m. on Oct. 27 to include information about Cam Boyd’ role in the acquisition of the ranch. STARS also offers tennis and pickleball in the summer.