WILDLIFE

Kokanee salmon struggling in Utah as biologists look for solutions

Oct 16, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:16 pm

Image of a Kokanee Salmon...

Each fall, living in and visiting Utah affords the opportunity to witness the life cycle of Kokanee Salmon. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — Kokanee salmon populations are suffering in Utah, and one expert says we’re not alone.

Sportfish Coordinator for the state of Utah Randy Oplinger told KSL Outdoors, “This is really an issue the western U.S. has been dealing with” and has been for a few years now. 

 

Biologists have been concerned with the trend that has led to a 50% reduction in the number of fish and eggs taken this fall at the usual locations of Strawberry and Flaming Gorge Reservoirs.

Why?

Although there may be several factors involved in this decline, Oplinger said it’s most likely the aftereffects of the drought conditions Utah and other western states have been dealing with, along with warmer temperatures which of course leads to warmer water.

The result is fewer Kokanee and fewer eggs, which now has the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources looking for a new source for the farming of those eggs, namely Fish Lake.

It turns out Fish Lake has a robust Kokanee population and provides easy access to streamline the gathering process.

Because this is the first time the DWR is attempting the egg-gathering process at Fish Lake, biologists warn that it may disrupt some of the viewing and fishing opportunities around Twin Creeks and are asking for the public’s patience and understanding.

Utah Kokanee history

You may be surprised, as I was, to find out that Kokanee Salmon have been in Utah for 100 years or longer.

They were introduced into Bear Lake in the 1920s, although they haven’t been seen there since probably the 1930s. Then, they were introduced into Flaming Gorge in the 60s and 70s. 

Fishing for these tasty “landlocked” salmon has become more popular in the last decade however, with the number of Kokanee fisheries growing from just five in 2016 to a dozen or more today.

What is the future?

According to Oplinger, it’s too early to tell what the future holds and whether catch and keep regulations will change for the species in the state.

“It’s a tricky species for biologists to manage,” he said. “They have good natural reproduction. Flaming Gorge populations for example, are about 20% stocked with the other 80% natural. Strawberry on the other hand, may be 50/50”.

Biologists may end up planting fewer fish with the lower harvest of eggs, but with our improved water conditions this year, the natural production may actually increase. So, the impact on fishermen long term may not be significant. 

As for most things in nature, time will tell and we may not know for a couple of years down the road.

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Kokanee salmon struggling in Utah as biologists look for solutions