GREEN RIVER - Last month fisheries biologists with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Bureau of Reclamation personnel removed burbot (a.k.a. ling) from the energy dissipation basin at the base of the spillway of Fontenelle Dam.
Mike Chaffin with the Bureau alerted Green River Fisheries Supervisor Robert Keith that several fish, including burbot, were trapped in the concrete basin when the water level was lowered to repair the spillway. Workers removed 302 burbot from the basin ranging in length from 10 to 31 inches, with most fish ranging in length from 18 to 26 inches. Similar efforts were made to salvage fish from the spillway in 2009, but only five burbot were found in the basin at that time.
The discovery of this eel-like, predatory fish in the early 2000’s dealt a serious blow to Game and Fish efforts to maintain quality fisheries in the Green River Drainage. Burbot populations have rapidly expanded since their illegal introduction and the large number removed from Fontenelle Dam this year compared to 2009 is yet another example of how prolific they have become.
Fisheries biologists work aggressively to manage against illegally introduced fish populations. Illegally introduced fish like burbot are often aggressive predators that out-compete and prey on existing game fish populations, reducing their numbers and increasing the cost of fishery management. The Game and Fish often addresses these situations by establishing liberal harvest regulations and allowing anglers to significantly impact populations through overharvest.
“When burbot began to thrive in the Green River drainage, they were still considered a game fish everywhere in the state,” said Green River Fisheries Biologist Craig Amadio. “Therefore, biologists established unlimited creel limits and encouraged anglers to harvest as many as possible. The Wyoming Legislature passed an amendment bill in 2013 resulting in a regulation change classifying burbot as a nongame fish in the Green River drainage, meaning sport fish regulations no longer apply. This is a major step forward in the fight to suppress burbot populations and minimize impacts to local sport fisheries.”
The regulation change means that now anglers can dispose of all burbot they catch and do not intend to eat. This allows biologists to continue encouraging the harvest of every burbot caught in the Green River drainage and eliminates the issues associated with wanton waist or high mercury concentrations. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014 a new law will also require that any burbot caught must be killed.
“Despite their nongame status, burbot still need to be disposed of properly and discretely,” Amadio said. “Anglers can legally dispose of burbot in a landfill or their own trash can, however, leaving them on the ice or throwing them alongside a road is considered littering. Another option is to cut each fish open and sink them to the bottom of the reservoir. This will actually return nutrients to the water and add a little productivity to the system.”
Reclassifying game fish as nongame is a substantial change for Wyoming fisheries and will only occur for select species and waters. Anglers need to keep in mind that burbot are now considered a nongame fish only in the Green River drainage. They are still a sport fish in all other drainages of the state.
(Contact: Craig Amadio or Lucy Wold (307) 875-3223)