The rules affect the Green River and its tributaries, from Flaming Gorge Dam to the river's confluence with the Colorado River. On this stretch, you must keep and immediately kill any burbot, northern pike, smallmouth bass or walleye you catch. You may not release any of these fish back to the river alive.
Also, there's no limit on the number of burbot, northern pike, smallmouth bass or walleye you can keep along this stretch.
"Harvest of these four nonnative predators: burbot, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye; is mandatory, not optional," says Matt Breen, a native aquatic species project leader with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
"They cannot be released alive," he says. "You must kill them immediately."
The new rules are available on pages 29 and 30 of the 2015 Utah Fishing Guidebook.
Catching threatened and endangered fish
Breen says fishing activity on the Green River has increased substantially in the past few years, especially near Jensen. "Much of this increased activity is in response to expanding populations of prized nonnative sport fish, particularly walleye and northern pike," he says.
Unfortunately, with fishing pressure higher than ever, sport fish aren't the only fish anglers are catching — they're also catching threatened and endangered fish that live in the river. The rules for the threatened and endangered fish are the exact opposite of the rules for burbot, pike, bass and walleye in the river — you may not keep threatened and endangered fish. They must be released into the river immediately.
Breen says four fish listed as endangered on the federal Endangered Species list — bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and razorback sucker — live in the river. In addition, three species the state of Utah considers threatened — bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker and roundtail chub — live in the river too.
How to tell the difference
Before you fish the river, it's important to know the difference between the nonnative sport fish and the native endangered and threatened fish. Breen says the easiest way to tell the difference is to look in the fish's mouth and at its fins: native fish do not have any teeth in their mouth or spines on their fins. The nonnative predators, on the other hand, have both.
Illustrations of the four sportfish and the four endangered fish are available on pages 54, 56, 59, 63, 64 and 65 of the 2015 Fishing Guidebook and on the DWR's new phone app. Illustrations for the three state threatened species are not currently available.
Breen says state and federal biologists are working tirelessly to eradicate burbot, northern pike, smallmouth bass and walleye from the river. "But we can't do it on our own," he says. "If you're an angler, we need your help."
Critical spawning areas
Breen says much of the Green River provides critical spawning and rearing habitat for native endangered and threatened fish. "At certain times of the year — when these native fish migrate to areas in the Green River to spawn — they're more vulnerable to capture," Breen says. "This timing typically overlaps the same period of time when lots of walleye and northern pike are in these areas too.
"With anglers actively targeting the sport fish, especially in the springtime, the chances of catching a native fish increases dramatically," Breen said. "Again, correct species identification and following the new rules are great ways for anglers to help us recover this unique group of endangered and threatened fish."