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Utah DWR proposes handful of statewide, local fishing regulation changes

By Carter Williams, KSL.com | Posted - Aug. 25, 2020 at 1:25 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials are proposing a few statewide fishing regulation changes, as well as nearly a dozen modifications to local fishing regulations and also some adjustments to clarify fishing tournament rules.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced the proposed changes Tuesday, although some of the proposals were given to Utah anglers in advance as a part of a survey earlier this year. The proposals announced will be voted on during a Utah Wildlife Board meeting on Oct. 1.

Proposed statewide changes are:

  • Clarifying a current rule on trout and salmon limits. The modification would make it more clear that the statewide limit for kokanee salmon is four fish, including trout. The state’s rule limiting trout to four fish also includes salmon, grayling and any hybrids. The agency stated the current rule as written was confusing and anglers thought it meant the could catch four trout and four salmon during a fishing trip.
  • Adjusting the kokanee salmon rule to also clarify that anyone fishing may not possess kokanee salmon between Sept. 10 and Nov. 30.
  • Decreasing the daily limit for wiper from six fish to three. The state’s wiper population is sterile so it relies on the state stocking the fish in state waterbodies. Officials argue the change would help keep populations in Utah waterbodies “more consistent." It could expand the places anglers can catch wiper in the future.
  • Increasing the daily limit for northern pike from six fish to 20, including one over 3 feet in length. Officials said northern pike are predators for many native fish species and sportfish and this adjustment will help their populations.
  • Allowing anglers to use bait without a hook to catch crayfish in areas where bait is currently prohibited for fishing. Officials said this was proposed because it’s difficult to catch the creature without bait.

Proposed local changes are:

  • Decreasing the daily limit of bass one person can catch from 10 fish to three —multiple bass species combined. This change is being requested in coordination with Wyoming wildlife officials; should it pass, the limit change on the Utah side of Flaming Gorge would go into effect in January 2021 and in January 2022 for the Wyoming side.
  • Increasing the number of kokanee salmon/trout at Flaming Gorge from three to four — matching the proposed statewide limit change.
  • Opening Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City to fishing. The Red Butte Canyon Natural Area upstream will remain closed to the public; all fishing would be allowed in areas downstream of the natural area.
  • Allowing anglers to harvest up to 15 bluegill at Pelican Lake south of Vernal. The state currently doesn’t allow bluegill to be kept after the lake was treated with rotenone to remove carp in 2018. Anglers can keep five fish that are over 7 inches.
  • Decreasing the daily limit of panfish species at Red Fleet Reservoir north of Vernal from 50 of every species apiece to 50 panfish total. Panfish species include bluegill, green sunfish, black crappie and yellow perch. Anglers would be limited to 20 black crappie total. Another proposal would create a seasonal closure to spearfish bass at the reservoir to help bass population numbers improve after the reservoir was also treated with rotenone in 2016.
  • Decreasing the daily limit of panfish species Starvation Reservoir near Duchesne from 50 total panfish to 20 panfish species.
  • Shrinking the fishing closure time frame at West Fork Duchesne River and Wolf Creek by several months. Fishing is currently banned at both locations from Jan. 1 until the second Saturday in July; under the proposed change, the ban would start on May 15 and end at the same time.
  • Closing spearfishing at Ken’s Lake south of Moab. Officials said this is to protect “vulnerable” sportfish populations.
  • Adjusting the spearfishing closure dates to the first Saturday in June through Sept. 10 to align closure to the proposed statewide time frame where anglers can’t possess kokanee salmon.

Proposed fishing contest and clinics changes are:

  • Adjusting the need for a DWR certification of registration. A certification would only be required for a fishing tournament or contests that have 85 or more participants, $2,000 or more in prizes, live weigh-ins or a tagged fish contest. If a contest has one of those four criteria, it would require a certification. They will be available for organizers online beginning in 2021.
  • Eliminating certification requirements for catch-and-release tournaments. Other DWR rules related to coldwater fishing — such as releasing fish after they are handled — will not be changed.

In a video explaining the proposal, Randy Oplinger, the division’s sportfish coordinator, said many of the proposed changes follow recent updates of the state’s fishing guidebook. Many of the proposed changes are aimed to improve population numbers and fishing quality.

The agency started by surveying its fishery managers for the regulation changes they’d like to see and added in what makes sense “from a biological perspective.”

When they put together possible proposals, officials also conducted surveys with anglers across Utah for their feedback. The survey was sent to 13,333 people in a stratified way to ensure it would get equal input from anglers across the state and not just one area, Oplinger explained.

In all, 3,038 responded. It found that a majority of anglers who responded supported most of the proposed rule changes.

There were some exceptions to this. For example, only 27% of spearfishers supported a seasonal closure of spearfishing at Red Fleet Reservoir and 38% supported the proposal to end spearfishing at Ken's Lake. Those proposals had varying responses from anglers in all. The Red Fleet adjustment garnered 75% to 94% overall support based on responses from anglers on statewide, regional and county levels. The Ken's Lake proposal ranged from 53% on a San Juan-Grand county level to 85% statewide.

The survey didn't include the statewide kokanee salmon limit adjustment but Oplinger said the agency believes it would have support based on a similar question for Moon Lake and Starvation Reservoir that received 70% to 78% supportive feedback from statewide respondents.

The final adjustment proposed would waive the agency's combination and hunting fees for Utahns actively serving in the military who missed out on the ability to acquire bonus or preference points while deployed. Utah military members would be able to purchase those points bonus or preference points if they missed the application period due to deployment.

Utahns will have several opportunities to provide feedback on the proposed changes over the next few weeks. Public comments can be submitted on the agency's website now through 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 27. Residents can also submit comments for Regional Advisory Council meetings, which will be held virtually beginning next week. All five regional meetings and the Utah Wildlife Board meeting will be broadcast on YouTube.

The electronic meeting schedule is:

Carter Williams

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