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Utah News

How Is Utah's On-Going Drought Impacting Fish?

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With the current megadrought Utah is experiencing, most reservoirs are at or below 50% capacity. For Utah’s fish, less water means their environments are shrinking around them and these smaller bodies of water tend to heat up faster.

Randy Oplinger, the Sportfish Coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources explained how low water levels are dangerous for fish.

“Fish have just a maximum tolerance for temperature they could take and sometimes you just exceed that point that they could tolerate and you have some die offs that happen," he said. "When temperatures are really high water holds less oxygen and fish need the oxygen in the water to survive. And there's a lot of instances where you get these low water hot conditions that the oxygen in the water drops to a point where just fish can't survive anymore, and they simply suffocate.”

 

In response to this year’s drought, the Utah DWR has implemented several emergency changes. They have identified bodies of water at risk of drying up or becoming too small to support the fish that live there, and have increased fishing take limits in these areas.

 

“Our philosophy as the division of wildlife resources is that we would rather give anglers the opportunity to harvest and take home additional fish, instead of let those fish just die because of the hot temperatures," Oplinger said. "We also have some cases where the waters, they're going to get low, but they're not going to dry up. But the biomass of fish that we have in those waters right now is high enough that it can't be sustained on these drought conditions and these lower water levels."

 

Besides increasing take limits in some areas, the Division is changing fish stocking. They are not stocking waters where poor water quality is expected as the drought persists, and moving fish from water that may become inhospitable, to areas expected to have good water quality later into the summer. 

 

Looking ahead, droughts like this are expected to continue or even increase, and the DWR is working to plan accordingly. Oplinger said,

 

“We're primarily a trout state," he said. "Turns out when you talk about drought, high water temperatures, low oxygen, trout don't tolerate it very well. So you know, we might be looking at things like changing species up a little bit, because there's other species like bass, bluegill, catfish who tolerate these conditions a little bit better. So I think you're going to be looking at us taking a really comprehensive look at just our management of our fisheries in the state to make sure that we're primed for these conditions down the road.