Scientists hope ‘shocking’ day on Yampa River will prove valuable (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Billy Atkinson’s approach to counting fish in the Yampa River is shocking to say the least. The aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been doing this type of study for more than 20 years.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, Atkinson stood on the banks of the Yampa River running an operation that he has done many times. In the river, a large group of Parks and Wildlife employees and volunteers, dressed in waders, lined the river from one side of the bank to the other.
They used electrically charged probes to create an electric current in the river that temporarily paralyzes the fish, so they can be scooped up into nets and then placed in temporary holding areas. The river was swept twice Thursday before each of the collected fish was measured, weighed and analyzed.
“I have been shocking it for 20 years,” Atkinson said. “I know what’s in there, more or less — it’s ongoing management.”
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Atkinson said the river was shocked at two locations Thursday, and the study will come to a close Friday, Nov. 15, with one more sampling.
“I’m taking a subsample from the river system that represents this whole length of this reach. That’s why I do a station here, another station upstream and then a station that gives me snapshots into what is going on,” Atkinson said. “I look at the growth rates and survival rates of the fish that I’m stocking.”
He said the information gives him insight and allows him to measure environmental impacts, such as the 2018 drought.
“We can see how the population fluctuated with the drought, and by doing the follow-up sampling, it allows me to adjust stocking, stocking densities and different species,” Atkinson said. “I may try different species of rainbow trout, different size, things like that.”
Parks and Wildlife stocks in the vicinity of 40,000 trout in this upper reach of the Yampa, between Steamboat Springs and Milner. They stock another 30,000 to 40,000 trout in a lower region.
“This drives management decisions based on what I see,” Atkinson said. “We look at species composition, the health of the fish and body condition, you know, things like that.”
The crew working the station near the Routt County Search and Rescue Barn on Thursday stunned and collected a total of 318 fish. That included 95 rainbow trout, 75 brown trout, 62 mottled sculpin, 41 speckled dace, 11 mountain whitefish, six white suckers and four brook trout. The group also collected 24 blue head suckers. That fish is native to the area but was just reintroduced three years ago.
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