Cold, Wind can’t stop CPW Biologists
Cold, wind can’t stop CPW biologists bent on surveying fish for conservation
PUEBLO, Colo. – Temperatures were below freezing and winds were gusting to 40 mph when aquatic biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southeast Region set out on the Arkansas River, and in it, to conduct their annual fish survey early Monday, Dec. 4.
A team of six biologists, some hatchery staff and seasonal employees spent the first week of December catching, weighing and measuring as many fish as they could find in the Arkansas, working from two small rafts and starting at the base of the Lake Pueblo State Park dam.
As winds whipped violent waves and whitecaps on the reservoir above, heavily bundled biologists gathered at dawn and set out in the tailwaters below. The brutal conditions couldn’t stop the important conservation work that needed to be done.
The first raft was guided by a biologist who walked behind it in the frigid river water. It carried three biologists who took turns tossing an electrode into river and quickly reeling it back in. The device gently charged the water with electricity and attracted any fish in the vicinity, allowing the two others to quickly scoop them up in long nets and deposit them in live wells.
The crew of a small chase raft then took the fish for precise measurements. A small hole puncher was used to mark the tail fin in order to accurately calculate a population estimate during this mark and recapture survey. The team expected to handle about 500 fish per day.
“We are trying to get a an accurate population estimate of the number of fish per mile in certain sections of the river,” said Carrie Tucker, CPW aquatic biologist based in Pueblo. “This fish survey is important because it helps us determine if our fishing regulations are working and how many fish we need to stock”.
“We are looking for rainbow trout and brown trout, particularly. But we are also weighing and measuring suckers and any other game fish we find. We’ll get bass, saugeye and carp.”
The first survey was conducted in 2011 to assess the population of the tailwaters of the river and half-mile sections through Pueblo. It was repeated in 2015 and now is an annual event.
Josh Nehring, senior aquatic biologist, participated in the survey and said similar surveys are conducted on rivers across Colorado as part of the agency’s conservation work maintaining healthy fisheries and ensuring plenty of game fish exist for anglers.
“Despite the weather, this is a good time of year to conduct the survey because river levels are low allowing us to safely enter the river and do our work,” Nehring said. “And it’s kind of fun because we get to see so many big fish.”