After the discovery of illegal fish in Utah Lake, state officials are moving to fire "the first shot in a war to fight illegal fish stocking."
Northern pike were documented in Utah Lake this year for the first time in 30 years when three of the fish were caught there. That has state officials alarmed, said Drew Cushing, sport fisheries coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Officials are not sure if cleaning the carp out of Utah Lake is allowing a latent population to explode, or if the fish are new. A single northern pike was documented in Utah Lake in the 1970s but none have been seen since.
"It seems like illegal stocking is getting worse and is almost epidemic," Cushing told the Daily Herald late Tuesday. "We are going to start getting our feet under us and start taking this more seriously from a legal standpoint in the very near future."
The Division of Wildlife Resources has announced it "will no longer manage fish that are placed illegally in a body of water. Starting with the 2012 fishing season, Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are recommending no limit and catch-and-kill regulations at several lakes and reservoirs in Utah."
The state is proposing to place catch-and-kill regulations on northern pike in Utah Lake and black bullhead catfish in Deer Creek Reservoir, and no-limit fishing on smallmouth bass in Quail Creek, Sand Hollow and Gunlock reservoirs, and the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers.
"Two tools we have to fight illegal fish stocking are no limit and catch-and-kill regulations," said Drew Cushing. "We want illegally introduced fish removed as quickly as possible."
The public usually thinks of poachers as someone standing over a dead deer or elk with a rifle in their hands.
"But in terms of money and the number of people illegal fish stocking affects, those who move fish from one body of water to another do a lot more damage," Cushing said.
Introducing a fish species that isn't already found in a body of water may affect the water body's entire ecosystem, said state officials. Good fishing can deteriorate quickly for fish that were already in the body of water before the illegal stocking happened.
Sometimes, the only way to remove illegally introduced fish is to kill all of the fish in a body of water and start over again with new fish. This can cost millions of dollars which the state would could be using to improve fishing at other waters in Utah and raise more fish in the state hatcheries. Businesses depending on sport fishing are hurt by illegally introduced fish.
The state will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Springville Civic Center at 110 S. Main St. to hear public comment on the new fishing regulations. The public can also email comments to their local state wildlife representative by going to www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings. Final rules for the 2012 fishing season will be approved in Salt Lake City on Nov. 3.