Brine shrimp cyst collection at Great Salt Lake up over 50%. Is the berm to thank?

Feb 16, 2024, 6:26 AM | Updated: 6:46 am

Brine shrimp...

Brine shrimp are held in the palm of a person on Dec. 15, 2020. Brine shrimp cyst collection jumped considerably over the past year after improvements to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, state wildlife officials said Thursday. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah land managers made emergency adjustments to a berm at the Great Salt Lake Causeway in 2022 and again in 2023, as the lake’s record-low levels at the time started causing new challenges.

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Water from the lake’s saltier north arm started flowing into the southern arm, raising salinity levels to a point that threatened the south arm’s entire ecosystem. Alterations to this berm are why the southern arm’s levels are now more than 3 feet above the northern arm, as more water has returned to the lake over the past year.

But it appears those changes have also benefited one of the lake’s more unique critters.

About 29 million pounds of brine shrimp cysts were harvested at the lake this past season, which normally runs from October through January every year, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials said Thursday. It’s more than a 50% increase from the 19 million pounds collected the year before.

The recent harvest also falls in line with the historical range of 25 to 35 million.

John Luft, Great Salt Lake ecosystem program manager for the division, said it appears that the measures to address rising salinity levels played a key role in the cyst harvest by helping get salinity levels back to a normal range in time for this year’s harvest.

Brine shrimp hatch rates also rose from about 60% in 2022 to above 90% in 2023.

“We thank our sister agencies and other partners for taking quick action to address salinity issues,” he said in a statement. “It allowed the brine shrimp to quickly rebound.”

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Brine shrimp cyst collection at Great Salt Lake up over 50%. Is the berm to thank?