Fish restoration is more than just maintaining a put-and-take fishery where hatcheries stock a body of water and then anglers harvest a majority of the fish each season. Fish restoration projects assist native populations to recover from declining populations due to factors such as invasive species, changes in water quality or flow, and fishing pressure. Here are three examples of fish restoration under way around the U.S.
1. Fish restoration projects for Red Snapper
The red snapper is a popular saltwater species which appears on many restaurant menus. The red snapper range extends from the Carolinas to the Gulf of Mexico and is currently in a rebuilding plan. Harvest regulations have been altered dramatically. In fact, red snapper harvest was prohibited entirely in 2010, 2011, 2015, and 2016 to allow more adults to reach reproductive age. Using a variety of methods to estimate and monitor the population, this fisheries restoration seems to be showing signs of recovery.
2. Sturgeon Spawning
Because sturgeon spawning is affected greatly by impoundments and they are slow to reach spawning maturity, there are several different sturgeon species fish restoration projects. The endangered pallid sturgeon is the object of studies in the Missouri River. In New York, the threatened lake sturgeon is being benefitted by stocking efforts in areas where these fish once lived. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, approximately 14,500 lake sturgeon were stocked in October 2018, tagged to help with statistical analysis of the population once recaptured.
3. Greenback Cutthroat Trout
The greenback is a species of cutthroat trout that once inhabited high alpine streams throughout the South Platte Basin area of Colorado and Wyoming. It was once thought to be extinct but is now listed as threatened but limited to only a handful of small streams and lakes along the Front Range of Colorado. Habitat improvement and stocking efforts are contributing to this fish’s recovery. I assisted with the culture of greenback cutthroat trout at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery in 1996 and was thrilled to find them in streams when I visited the Rocky Mountain National Park, some twenty years later.
Success of any fish restoration depends on cooperation not only from various fisheries partners from state, federal, or private levels but also on the public. Follow regulations and be aware of fragile fish conservation efforts. With a little help, native fish populations can recover enough to become a special treat for anglers. And the purchase of your fishing license helps!