Counting Fish for Conservation – Colorado

For many of us, catching a fish means recreation, conservation, and catch and release. For others, it means counting on landing one to fry up for dinner. Oh my, I love a fresh brookie at my high mountain camp.

When you purchase a license to fish or hunt, do you ever wonder where your money goes? I’m currently serving my second term on the Colorado Sportsmen’s Roundtable  (CSR) committee, and what I hear from sportsmen I run into around the state is that they want to know what Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) does with the money.

I’ll tell you that the organization is doing a TON, and in order to truly understand where the money goes you need to become involved. I have learned a lot sitting on the CSR, but I’ve learned even more by attending the Commission meetings. This is an intense and deep topic, “Where does the money go?”

Today I want to share a research method that CPW biologists are using in a river near Pueblo, Colorado. It’s pretty extensive but should reveal more accurate numbers than standing in a body of water and trying to count fish as they swim by. I think it’s very interesting, and thought you might like to learn about it too.

Here is a small snippet of where your money goes.

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.”

CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 41 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.

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