Research project starts on Flaming Gorge

If you see nets and other sampling gear in the water at Flaming Gorge Reservoir this fall and winter, don’t be alarmed.

The equipment is part of a project to learn more about burbot that were released into the reservoir illegally.

Utah State University (USU), in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), is conducting the research project.

The project, which is underway now, will end in early 2013. Identifying the extent of the burbots’ seasonal movement, and the fish the burbot prey on the most, are the project’s goals.

If you see nets in the reservoir, please do not disturb them.

You can help

To determine the seasonal movements of the burbot, biologists will use radio telemetry to track fish that have been implanted with ultrasonic telemetry tags. Each burbot that receives an internal telemetry tag will also have an external green tag attached to it.

In Utah, anglers are required to keep and kill all of the burbot they catch. If you catch a tagged fish in Utah, Drew Cushing, warm water sport fisheries coordinator for the UDWR, encourages you to contact the UDWR office in Dutch John as soon as possible.

“The telemetry tags we’re using are expensive,” Cushing says. “If you contact us, we can remove the telemetry tag from the fish and use it again.”

You can either remove the telemetry tag yourself (the tag is inserted in the fish’s abdomen) and drop it off at the Dutch John office, or you can refrigerate the fish and then schedule a time to meet with a biologist so the biologist can remove it.

If you can’t bring the tag to the Dutch John office, Cushing encourages you to call the office at 435-885-3164 with the number on the external tag, the length of the fish and the area on Flaming Gorge where you caught it.

Due to the expense of the telemetry tags, biologists in both Utah and Wyoming would really like to retrieve the tags.

“Whatever you do,” Cushing says, “don’t release the burbot back into the water if you catch it on the Utah side of the reservoir.”

The situation is different on the Wyoming side of Flaming Gorge. If you catch the fish on the Wyoming side, it’s legal to release the fish. But before you do, please call the WGFD’s regional office in Green River (307-875-3223) to relay tag information and the location and date on which the burbot was caught.

“Typically,” says WGFD biologist Craig Amadio, “we encourage anglers to harvest and remove all [of the] burbot they catch from Flaming Gorge. But this is a unique situation.”

Amadio says each telemetry tag costs $500, so it’s an expensive project. “If an angler happens to harvest a tagged burbot,” he says, “we’re asking that they retrieve the internal telemetry tag and return it to the WGFD regional office in Green River or the UDWR office in Dutch John. Then [we can use it] on another fish.”

Amadio says this important research project will help biologists learn more about the illegally introduced burbot population. The information gained will ultimately assist with burbot suppression efforts and the future management of the fishery.

Learning two things

Biologists will tag burbot at eight different locations on the reservoir. Then they’ll track burbot throughout this winter and next spring. The information biologists gather will provide insight into seasonal movement directions and distances. The ultimate goal is to identify when and where the burbot spawn.

By knowing when and where the burbot spawn, biologists and anglers can focus on those areas to maximize removal efforts and limit burbot reproduction.

The diet portion of the research project will help biologists better understand the current impacts burbot are having on other fish species in the reservoir and potential impacts the burbot might have in the future.

“Burbot are very aggressive predators and feed on anything they can catch,” says Amadio. “Crayfish appear to be their main prey source. But we have confirmed that burbot also feed on kokanee, rainbow trout and smallmouth bass.”

Amadio says biologists have observed another disturbing trend in recent years: Burbot feeding on kokanee eggs and lake trout eggs while those species are spawning in the fall.

“We are obviously concerned about the impact burbot predation might have on these important sport fish populations,” he says. “This research project will help us assess the extent of the problem.”

For more information about the research project, call the WGFD Green River regional office at 307-875-3223 or the UDWR Dutch John office at 435-885-3164.

Image courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

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