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If You Can't Beat 'em, Eat 'em: Managers Use Fishing Contest to Control Invasive Species

Angler holding a burbot

“Burbot looks like an eel, kind of. It has one single, little barbell on the front of its face and that it uses to feel around on the bottom of substrates where it’s lying, but it’s very eel-like and it’s very, very slimy. There is more slime on that fish than any fish I’ve ever had the pleasure of touching. The biggest problem that we have with them in Flaming Gorge is that they’re really hindering our kokanee salmon and our lake trout populations. [I’m] Tonya Kieffer, Division of Wildlife Resources, Conservation Outreach Manager for the Northeastern Vernal Office.”

Burbot are an invasive species, native to Europe, that were illegally introduced to the Flaming Gorge reservoir years ago. Their scientific name is Lota lota, but they go by many names, including lawyer, lingcod, and eelpout. They have also been dubbed “the ugliest fish in the West” by organizers of the annual Burbot Bash, a three-day celebration and fishing contest designed to help control these invaders.

“Every year we go out before the Bash and we tag a certain number of these burbot, and if people catch tagged fish they’re eligible for some pretty nice, big prizes, some upwards of ten thousand dollars, and so we’ve kind of put a bounty on these fish in order to get rid of them,” said Kieffer.

Burbot breed in the coldest times of the year, so this year’s Bash was held on January 20th through the 22nd. Six-hundred and eighteen anglers showed and caught 3918 fish. The group that caught the most won $2100 for 218 fish over two days. One group only caught one, but made $1400 because it was the largest of the contest at 35.6 inches. The people that didn’t win cash prizes were still able to walk away with delicious fish, despite the slime.

“They taste like poor man’s shrimp when you do them right in a little butter and sugar water,” Kieffer said.