I recently contacted our local small town weekly paper and asked if I could write an article (for free) about a new fish rearing facility that had opened nearby. The editor responded enthusiastically and asked how fast I could get it to him. I said one week. I did not hear anymore from him and went ahead. I interviewed my contact, wrote the article, and submitted it when I said I would. He said he liked it, but had run an article on the fish facility already. It would have been nice of him to mention that he needed the article immediately or I shouldn’t bother…grumble, growl, mutter.
Well it was good practice I guess. And though I am sure no one outside of my small town is interested in the local fish facility, I am posting the article here anyway. I created this blog as a way to practice writing, put it out in the world and possibly get some feedback on it. So here it is- the one that got away.
New Native Fish Facility Opens Near Fruita
by Meredith Swett Walker
The razorback sucker could use an image makeover. The name does not conjure visions of fishy glory, like “swordfish” or “king salmon,” and it certainly doesn’t sound like something you’d like to eat. But razorbacks are no dinky little baitfish; they can reach 36 inches and live upwards of 40 years. And these Colorado native fish once nourished early settlers and helped many local residents make it through the Great Depression. Now the fish are endangered, wild populations are extremely rare, but they are about to receive help from the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility that opened last month adjacent to Snook’s Bottom Open Space in Fruita.
The facility, officially completed August 21st, is comprised of 22 ponds ranging in size from 0.1 to 0.5 acres and was constructed by Kissner General Contractors Inc., of Cedaredge. In addition, there is a small building housing pumps and spawning tanks. While the facility is located on property owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program funded it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will oversee daily operations. Fish will be spawned in indoor tanks and offspring kept inside until they reach a suitable size for ponds where they then “grow out” until they are large enough to be released into the wild. Prior to release, each fish will be given a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag; similar to a microchip you might give your dog. The PIT tag will allow researchers to survey the fish in the wild and estimate their survival rates.
Prior to the construction of the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leased grow out ponds from private landowners in the Grand Valley. But these scattered, private ponds had variable depths, temperatures and other factors that made yields of fish unpredictable according to Dale Ryden, Project Leader at the Colorado River Fishery Project and Ouray National Fish Hatchery – Grand Valley Unit. The ponds at the new facility are lined to reduce seepage and operate like hatchery ponds with known depth, temperature, feed requirements, etc. Razorback suckers raised at the facility will be used to boost local populations in the Colorado River, as well as the Colorado and Green Rivers in Utah. In the coming years, the three other endangered fish species native to Colorado, bonytail chub, humpback chub and Colorado pikeminnow, may also be raised at the facility.
What led populations of razorback suckers along with bonytail, humpback chub and Colorado pikeminnow to decline? Ryden says that the two main factors are dams and non-native fish species. Some of our native fish once migrated up to 300 miles. Dams now confine fish to smaller segments of rivers and fragment once large populations into smaller ones that more easily die out. In addition, these fish are adapted to extremely variable river flows with higher floods and lower low flows than we see on today’s dammed rivers. The more consistent flows created by dams are unfavorable for the native species but do favor many of the introduced, non-native fish. Non-native fish may prey upon the native species or compete with them for food and living space. The native fish recovery programs attempt to address all factors causing the population decline; including working to manage river flows in order to meet the needs of fish and humans, as well as managing non-native fish species. Fish reared at the new facility will help re-establish self-sustaining populations of these species in the wild. Restoration of these species will help preserve our local natural heritage, as well as a diverse, productive river ecosystem.
P.S. In the end, this article finally did get published on a new local cultural website called Fruita Pulp. Check it out at http://www.fruitapulp.com/. Its a pretty cool site, even if you don’t live in Fruita. I hope to publish there again so keep an eye out.