Why Utah wildlife officials want to reclassify this species as a sportfish

A photo of a roundtail chub taken on July 9, 2021. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing to remove the fish species from its protected species list beginning next year.

A photo of a roundtail chub taken on July 9, 2021. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing to remove the fish species from its protected species list beginning next year. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Roundtail chub are not endangered but it's a fish that Utah wildlife biologists have considered a "species of greatest conservation need" for some time, meaning they are protected in the state.

As other states begin lifting similar regulations, and with Utah's roundtail chub population considered "strong enough," the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is ready to drop the state's protection and reclassify the species as a sportfish beginning in 2023.

"We see roundtail chub as being a species that can provide a good fishing opportunity here in the state," Randy Oplinger, sportfish coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said in a video posted Tuesday explaining recommended changes to the state's 2023-24 fishing regulations.

Roundtail chub differ from many current sportfish because they traditionally live in "a large river environment," Oplinger said. The fish also take a wide variety of flies, lures and baits.

Division officials estimate the change will open up 839 new miles of fishing opportunities in the state.

"This is a new species, a species anglers haven't traditionally fished for because they have been a prohibited species here in the state," Oplinger added. "But the reality is, we're talking with other states where they have done a similar reclassification — roundtail chub are really an awesome species for anglers to catch. ... This is truly a unique opportunity."

Roundtail chub is a species considered endemic to the Colorado River Basin and nowhere else in the world, Matt Breen, the native aquatics project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, wrote in a blog on the division's website in 2020. He added that Utah began taking action to protect the species in 2006, which helped the species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The post described the many tactics the state agency uses to help the species survive, including hatcheries and predator-free wild environments.

State wildlife officials then began kicking around the reclassification idea with regional advisory councils and the Utah Wildlife Board last year, while also finding widespread support for the plan among surveyed anglers afterward. As this process unfolded, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in April that roundtail chub is not in need of any protection under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower Colorado River, south of Utah.

The proposal would allow the species to be caught within sections of seven rivers and creeks in Utah. Some of the areas include catch-and-release regulations.

  • Colorado River: Roundtail chub can be caught from the Colorado state line, to the confluence of the Dirty Devil River. There would be a daily fish limit of two roundtail chub.
  • Delores River: Roundtail chub can be caught from the Colorado state line downriver to the confluence of the Colorado River. There would be a daily fish limit of two roundtail chub.
  • Escalante River: Roundtail chub can be caught from the confluence of Pine Creek downriver to the confluence of Lake Powell. All roundtail chub must be immediately released after being caught, and only artificial flies and lures can be used.
  • Green River: Roundtail chub can be caught from the Colorado state line downriver to Sand Wash boat launch. All roundtail chub must be immediately released in this section. Roundtail chub can also be caught from the Sand Wash boat launch downriver to the confluence of the Colorado River. There would be a daily fish limit of two roundtail chub.
  • McElmo Creek: Roundtail chub can be caught from the Colorado state line downriver to the confluence of the San Juan River. All roundtail chub must be immediately released after being caught, and only artificial flies and lures could be used.
  • San Rafael River: Roundtail chub can be caught anywhere in the river. There would be a daily fish limit of two roundtail chub.
  • White River: Roundtail chub can be caught from the Colorado state line downriver to the tribal land boundary. There would be a daily fish limit of two roundtail chub.

Other proposed changes

The proposed change in the protection status of roundtail chub is one of several fishing proposals the division is seeking. Most involve tweaking the daily fishing limit at various fishing locations across the state, adjusting the times people can fish at some locations or stocking different fish at certain locations. For instance, one proposal would eliminate the overnight fishing ban at Lost Creek Reservoir in Morgan County.

Another proposal is to drop the Green River Golf Course Pond in southeast Utah as an official community fishery because of the low survival rates of stocked fish. Utah would still remain at 57 community fishery ponds because it is proposing to add Willard Bay Pond in Box Elder County to its list.

Oplinger explained that three versions of proposals were emailed out to anglers across Utah in a format that selected a range of locations, ages, genders and other information that allowed for a wider range of feedback. In all, the division received a 16% response rate from the 25,000 total surveys emailed out.

All of the proposed changes can be found here. The division began collecting public feedback on the overall proposal Tuesday. People have until the end of Sept. 22 to submit comments on the plan through the division's website.

The Utah Wildlife Board is slated to vote on the proposal during a meeting at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center in Farmington on Sept. 29.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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