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Southwestern Trout On the Move
by Craig L. Springer
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Craig_Springer at fws_gov
Our imperiled southwestern trouts, the Apache and Gila trout, are on the move--literally.
The Apache trout, listed as threatened, is near recovery and may soon be delisted.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services field offices in Arizona -- the Arizona Fishery Resources Office, Pinetop Fish Health Center, and Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery -- working closely with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and Arizona Game & Fish recently moved Apache trout back into historic habitat. Ord Creek, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, received 89 fish up to nine inches long.
Taken from a remote refugia stream on the Kaibab National Forest, the trout were packed out with livestock, hauled to an Arizona Game & Fish hatchery and temporarily held there until Pinetop Fish Health Center biologists were assured the trout were in good health. Back into a hatchery truck, the trout were transported and released into Ord Creek.
After three decades, were happy to see this fish return to its native habitat, says Daniel Parker, White Mountain Apache tribal member and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist.
The Apache trout recovery plan calls for 30 self-sustaining stream populations before delisting can occur. Ord Creek may be number 29. The larger fish will be set to spawn this coming spring, giving this population a head start in getting established. All trout were marked so biologists can measure their dispersal and long-term survival.
The Apache trout is on the brink of recovery, says Stewart Jacks, Arizona Fishery Resources Office Project Leader. Were working hard to get this fish delisted. Thanks to the help of eager cooperators, that goal is on the near horizon.
And just over the horizon in New Mexico, recovery of the endangered Gila trout moves forward. Gila trout recovery efforts, beset by recent natural calamities -- fire, flood, and drought -- had luck on its side, this time, when a forest fire eradicated non-native trout from a wilderness stream. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services New Mexico Fishery Resources Office seized the opportunity and readied Black Canyon for the return of native Gila trout.
Several private angling groups and volunteers marshalled their resources and built a barrier -- a small waterfall -- funded by USFWS Sport Fish Restoration Program to keep non-native trout from moving upstream. Mescalero National Fish Hatchery produced several thousand fingerlings from their Gila trout broodstock.
Assisted by the Gila National Forest and the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, an unprecedented 13,000 fingerlings made their way to Black Canyon. Panniers of cold water draped across the backs of mules carried the Gila trout well into the headwaters. Fish biologists remarked that not a single mortality occurred on the way in, and the young trout hardily swam away upon release.
Barry Wiley, the Servicess Gila trout coordinator was pleased with everyones efforts. Weve worked hard just to get back to square-one from floods and fires, says Wiley. Black Canyon offered a rare opportunity and its resulted in the largest reintroduction effort to date. Were about one stream away from downlisting. A couple years from now, folks may be talking about how to fish for them.