Biologists work to keep fish off the endangered species list

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LITTLE DELL RESERVOIR, Utah -- Utah’s Bonneville cutthroat trout are popular among anglers in the Beehive state because they are easy to catch and taste great, but a lot of work goes into keeping the trout population thriving.

Don Wiley, Division of Wildlife Resources, is part of a group of DWR biologists and volunteers who work to keep Utah’s cutthroat trout thriving.

"Today at the mountain dell reservoir and little dell reservoir we're spawning the native Bonneville cutthroat trout,” he said. "This project is extremely important for northern Utah. It is our only brood source in the northern part of Utah that we use the offspring of these fish to continue to expand native cutthroat population, to keep them off the endangered species list."

Parley’s Creek, which is just above Little Dell Reservoir, is the perfect place to find fish to help shore up the population.

“About 17 years ago, we discovered this population of cutthroat trout,” he said. “We did some genetics on them and found out they're pure Bonneville cutthroat trout, here since Lake Bonneville.”

He said they actively work to keep fish populations up.

"Out in the reservoir we have some live cages where we collect the fish from the streams,” he said. “We hold them there, then under the canopies we take the eggs from the females and we fertilize them with the milt from the males.”

Wiley said fluctuating water levels can make it hard to catch the trout with traditional means, so they use electricity.

“We put it on a very, very, very low setting, so that it just stuns the fish for a brief second, and then we hurry and net them,” he said.

Wiley said the fertilized eggs are hatched, and the young fish are raised for a short time at the fishery before they are released into the wild. He said they remain in the fishery for a period of time determined by which part of Utah they will eventually be introduced into.

"For example, in Little Dell Reservoir, where we're taking a lot of eggs from, we want to replenish that population, but there's large cutthroat in that reservoir, and those large reservoir fish will eat the 3-inch fish, so we go to a little bit bigger fish, we go to a 6-inch fish,” he said.

The fish are checked for diseases and parasites before the eggs are fertilized. Biologists said this helps ensure they aren’t contaminating other waterways and reservoirs.