Unwanted Fish Leads To Closure Of S. Utah Park
Pet fish are threatening other fish found naturally in a Southern Utah river. The illegal dumping of those unwanted fish is forcing the temporary closure of popular park in Saint George where the public can view and learn more about native fish.
Steve Meismer manages the Virgin River Program, a partner program organized by state and local water and wildlife agencies. He is working with biologists from the Division of Wildlife Resources to remove more than 1,000 Goldfish and other non-native fish from a botanical garden in St. George. The garden, which has three large viewing windows, was built by the groups to help educate the public about non-native fish found in the Virgin River. Since the garden park opened a year and a half ago people have been releasing pet fish into the protected waters. Some of the Goldfish are six inches long.
“People know there are Goldfish in there,” said Meismer. “We’ve just finally gotten to the point that we are seeing damage to those native populations we have to take care of.”
As many as ten thousand visitors gather at the Red Hills Desert Garden each month to view native fish like the Virginia River Chub. The pond and stream will remain closed until August 26, while officials work to remove what they can of the six native fish species. Once drained the poison Rotenone will be used to kill the remaining fish. The waters will be restocked with native fish.
“Right before we opened it we put in some Virgin River Chubb, one of the federally endangered fish species, and we had seen reproduction,” he said. “We had all these young Virgin River Chub. With the increase numbers of non-native fish in there we haven’t seen any reproduction of the chub.
The problem of people introducing non-native fish to open waterways is not new. In October biologist performed a similar fish removal process at Washington County's Gunlock Reservoir, a popular place for sports fishing.
“We have to go and reset that system to so it will probably be a number of years before the Large Mouth Bass fishery in that reservoir is back up to where it was,” said Meismer.
To discourage the public from placing unwanted fish in the Desert Garden waters The Virgin River Program has installed surveillance cameras that will be used to capture video of the illegal transferring and dumping of fish.