Category Archives: Conservation

NOAA Fisheries Calls on Anglers to Report Sturgeon Sightings and Catches on Sturgeon Hotline


Wild animals, especially those living underwater, can be hard to find and track. Biologists compile and use public sighting information to learn more about different animal species. Atlantic sturgeon are found along the Canadian and U.S. Atlantic Coast as far south as Florida. Understanding where they go, how they get there and where they spawn (lay their eggs) is important for resource  managers. It helps them to put protections in place for this endangered species. With their built-in “armor,” also known as scutes, sturgeon appear to be indestructible. They actually face a number of threats including:

Unintended catch by fishermen

Dams that block access to spawning areas

Poor water quality

Water withdrawals from rivers

Vessel strikes

NOAA Fisheries monitors a sturgeon hotline, (844) STURG-911, as a way to collect sightings information. Recent reports to the hotline have come from as far away as California and as far north as Maine!  One of the most common reporting locations is New Jersey.

About a week ago, while walking along the shore in Cape May, New Jersey,   a family discovered a sturgeon that had washed ashore. The fish, which was about 2.5 feet long, did not appear to be injured. The family found an odd yellow “streamer” with number 53869 attached to the animal. It turns out that yellow streamer was actually a scientific tag applied by a sturgeon researcher!

Our partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the tag was issued in North Carolina in 2019. Thousands of miles away, we received another tip via the hotline that a sturgeon was spotted off Marina Bay Beach in Richmond, California. The animal had a large bite on its underside. Based on what we know about the abundance of sturgeon in the San Francisco Bay area, this animal was likely a white sturgeon. Without photo evidence, it’s tough to know for sure.

Regardless, calls like these provide valuable data to NOAA researchers. Closer to home, we’ve had more than a dozen reports so far this year. There were two from North Carolina, one from South Carolina, three from Georgia, and three from Florida. You might wonder, how can scientists learn anything from a dead fish, but depending on the animal, we gain lots of useful information. We can determine if it’s been growing, we can determine where it might have hatched using genetics. We can also get a sense of where and when they are migrating (traveling between locations).

For example, by re-sighting a sturgeon, like the one tagged in North Carolina but found in New Jersey, we are able to compare size. We can tell how much the animal has grown between when it was first caught and when it washed up dead.

Your information helps! If you find a stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon, please take a photo, if you can do so safely. In the Southeast you can report it to (844) STURG-911/(844) 788-7491, or send us an email at NOAA.Sturg911@noaa.gov

In the Northeast please call the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at (978) 281-9328.

Provide additional information such as: Where you saw the animal (latitude/longitude)Approximately how big it was

Any weird marks (like a tag) or wounds you notice when you saw it These are also very helpful pieces of information! 

5 Things We Know About Juvenile Tarpon


From Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
from The Fishing Wire

1. They begin their lives looking like a clear worm

Adult tarpon spawn offshore: 80-100 miles in the Gulf of Mexico and 5-10 miles in the Atlantic Ocean. Once eggs fertilize and hatch, tarpon begin their larval stage looking like a transparent flat ribbon. This particular larva, similar to eels, bonefish, and ladyfish, is known as a leptocephalus. Although leptocephali do have the ability to swim, they are mostly drifting with currents to make their way back inshore. A study on the Indian River Lagoon found that tarpon larvae enter the passes at night and make their way into far reaches of the estuary to find calm, tidal backwaters where they metamorphose into juveniles.

2. They can breathe air 

Although we can’t exactly compare juvenile tarpon to Flipper, tarpon have a unique capability of taking oxygen from above the surface instead of relying on dissolved oxygen in the water. Tarpon have a modified swim bladder that has rows of vascularized (i.e. spongy) tissue that can act as an extra set of gills. In contrast, other fish typically have a balloon like swim bladder that can only help with buoyancy during pressure changes. Gulping air is a major benefit to juvenile tarpon who seem to prefer habitats with low dissolved oxygen that exclude other fish that could be competition or predators.

3. They eat anything and everything

Another good strategy for juvenile tarpon in backwater habitats is that they are opportunistic feeders. A study on the east coast of Florida looked at the diets of juvenile tarpon compared with prey availability for seven locations and concluded that tarpon eat everything. The only limiting factor was if the food would fit in their mouth; therefore the larger the juvenile tarpon grew, the more things it could eat. Fish and copepods are the main organisms consumed, but tarpon also eat ants, crabs, shrimp and fly larvae. (Photo: Jeff Harrell)

4. Their growth rates depend on habitat quality

Although the scientific literature is limited on juvenile tarpon studies, there are some that show tarpon in captivity and natural habitats exhibit growth rates of 10-12 inches per year. Likewise, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found comparable growth rates of juvenile snook (who use similar habitats) in the Tampa Bay estuary. However, BTT studies in southwest Florida and coastal South Carolina of juvenile tarpon in human degraded habitats found average growth rates of 1-2 inches per year. These studies underscore how detrimental coastal development, altered waterflows and nutrient runoff are to our fisheries.

5. About 2/3 of angler reported juvenile tarpon habitats are degraded by humans

 In 2016, BTT started a juvenile tarpon habitat mapping project to find locations of tarpon 12 inches and smaller.  Anglers reported almost 300 locations and were asked to described the site as natural or altered. About 64 percent of reported sites were described as having some level of degradation. Couple this information with our slow growth data in human impacted sites and it’s clear just how important habitat protection and restoration are.

 Click here to learn more about BTT’s habitat restoration efforts. (Photo: SWFWMD)

FREE RELEASE TOOLS OFFERED FOR GULF OF MEXICO FISHERMEN

Free Release Tools Offered for Gulf of Mexico Fishermen

Return ‘Em Right is launching its program to offshore anglers throughout the Gulf of Mexico today. By participating in a short online review of best practices anglers can receive free release gear valued at $100 to help reef fish survive release.

Each year, more than 10 million federally-managed reef fish are released, and at least one million of those will die after being released. A main reason is due to barotrauma, a pressure-related injury fish experience when reeled up from depth. Anglers may observe barotrauma when they release a fish, only to see it float away on the surface. For every one percent of landed and released fish anglers save through learning and using best release practices, over 100,000 reef fish could survive to grow, possibly spawn, and be caught again.

“I have enjoyed teaching my daughter to fish and know one way to keep the fisheries healthy for her generation is to release them properly. I hope Gulf anglers take advantage of Return ‘Em Right – free gear and training to benefit the fishery is a win-win,” said JD Dugas, recreational angler from Louisiana.

Return ‘Em Right promotes best release practices, with an emphasis on proper use of descending devices, which research shows can improve long-term survival of reef fish by up to three times. Descending devices are weighted devices that help fish overcome buoyancy and injury by releasing them at depth. These devices come in a variety of forms including weighted inverted hooks, lip clamp devices, and weighted crates and boxes.

“I used descending devices for the first time recently, and I’ve seen them work firsthand. Not a single fish floated back up the entire day offshore fishing,” said Alexandra Spring, three-time IGFA World Record Holder.

Gulf of Mexico reef fish anglers 18 years and older are now eligible to visit the Return ‘Em Right website, review best release practices, and receive a package of release gear to use out on the water. The educational review is available to all individuals who are interested in learning best practices when encountering barotrauma, regardless of your age, location, or role in the fishery.

“Return ‘Em Right welcomes all anglers to participate in the program and we are excited to be a resource to a community committed to preserving the future of the sport,” said Nick Haddad, Fisheries Communications Manager, Return ‘Em Right.

About Return ‘Em Right

Return ‘Em Right is a program that aims to reduce catch and release mortality from fish suffering from barotrauma in the Gulf of Mexico. The program is led by Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA and a coalition of anglers, industry groups, state agencies, universities, government and non-government organizations committed to maintaining healthy fish stocks and fishing access in the Gulf of Mexico. The project was selected by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee’s as part of a 2019 Restoration Plan.

Mississippi Kites and Swallow Tail Kites

At the Sportsman Club meeting last Tuesday Raymond English said he thought I was talking about a Mississippi Kite when I wrote about seeing a Swallow-tailed Kite.  He told me he saw the Mississippi Kite one time and he had to get more information about it.  So I did too!

    I am not sure I have ever seen one, but maybe. Griffin is right on the edge of their territory and they are rare here. They look similar to sparrowhawks that are common here and I may have confused them. Sparrowhawks are actually American Kestrels, a type of falcon rather than a hawk.

The Mississippi Kite is a little bigger, with body length about 14 inches and wingspan of about 30 compared to a sparrowhawk with body 12 inches and wingspan about 24 inches. Sparrowhawks have more brown while Mississippi Kites are more gray, but young kites have more brown with bars so they look very much like sparrowhawks.

    Mississippi kites do not have a forked tail that makes the Swallow-tailed kite stand out. But one interesting fact – Mississippi Kites often build their nests near wasps nest – maybe wasps help protect the young birds!

Right now males of all species are in full mating colors so they really stand out. Male bluebirds in my back yard are very colorful but will fade some in the coming weeks as they mate and nest.

I will be on the lookout for them and other interesting birds this spring, while fishing and other times. It is much easier to look up new bird sightings now we have the internet.  It is fast and easy compared to the old book field guides I used for years.

Great Backyard Bird Count

 The song “I’m A Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions hit the charts in 1968, the year I graduated from high school.  It may have been appropriate way back then but I am sure it is politically incorrect now. But it really doesn’t matter.  All my life I have been a bird watcher, too, and now that is even more appropriate.

    I have always had bird feeders in my yard and have several books on bird identification. Pictures by John James Audubon draw my attention as does his information about different species. I think one reason I really like him is I found out he shot the birds he painted so he could get a better look at them!

    One of my most unusual sightings was a Swallow-tailed Kite. Linda and I were driving back roads home from Jekyll Island a few years ago and I saw it soaring above a clear cut. Luckily there was no traffic because I slammed on brakes and got off the road to look at it!

    A couple weeks ago, on February 18 – 21, the Great Backyard Bird Count was held. This year folks all over the world set records for the numbers of birds seen and submitted on a database.  This information helps learn about bird populations and how they change over time. 

    You can find more information about the count at https://www.birdcount.org/

Great Backyard Bird Count – Join us February 18–21, 2022. Each year people from around the world come together to watch, learn about, count, and celebrate birds.Each year people from around the world come together to watch, learn about, count, and celebrate birds. Join us in February!www.birdcount.org

– if you like birds and bird watching, check them out.

Catch Northern Pikeminnows for Fun and Profit in Washington and Oregon

ANGLER PAID $61,000 REWARD FOR CATCHING NORTHERN PIKEMINNOWS

from The Fishing Wire

Angler Paid $61,000 Reward for Catching Northern Pikeminnows

One angler is being paid $61,000 for the northern pikeminnow he caught in the Columbia and Snake rivers and turned into state fish and wildlife officials last summer. Next year he has the potential for an even bigger payout as the Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program plans to pay more per fish turned in when the season opens in May 2022. This year the program paid out almost $700,000 to anglers who registered for the program and then turned in the northern pikeminnow they caught each day.

That’s down from the $840,000 paid in 2020. That’s because river conditions were not ideal, including at one of the best places to fish in the Tri-Cities, the mouth of the Yakima River, said Eric Winther, project leader for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Pikeminnow Sport Reward program.

Grass and debris clogged the water when the pikeminnow fishing is usually at its best there in May and early June, he told the Tri-City Herald. About the same number of anglers participated in the program in Washington and Oregon this past season as the year before. But anglers did not do as well this past season, with about 89,600 fish caught compared to 103,100 the year before. To encourage people to keep fishing next season, the program plans to increase the reward paid per fish. Last season payments started at $5 per fish.

Next season it will pay $6 each for the first 25 pikeminnow; $8 each for 26 to 200 fish; and $10 for each after 200. In addition, specially tagged pikeminnow are worth $500.

Fish Hatchery Technology – Follow A Fisheries Biologists Career

GET THE SCOOP ON FISH HATCHERY TECHNOLOGY

Valerie Gil

from The Fishing Wire

Get the Scoop on Fish Hatchery Technology

I first started my career in marketing, and it wasn’t long before I realized that it just wasn’t for me. So, I went back to school for a degree in fisheries biology. I worked with Pacific salmon in Washington and Alaska, and then in April of 2021, I moved to Utah to work with rainbow trout at the Springville Fish Hatchery.

What I love most about my job — and the main thing that got me interested in this field — is that I get to be outside and work with fish. I truly enjoy what I do and can’t see myself doing anything else. Our hatchery team is awesome, which makes going to work fun. And, we’re always working to improve hatchery outcomes and keep Utah’s fish populations healthy.

One of the most interesting parts of our job is how much we use technologies and equipment unique to — or specifically adapted for — fish culture.

#1: Egg picker

The egg picker has got to be one of the most interesting pieces of equipment that I have ever worked with. Although I have not used an egg picker with trout (yet!), I did get to use this tech when I worked with Pacific salmon. Facilities in Utah that use pickers are our broodstock hatcheries, including Mantua, Egan and Mammoth Creek.

Egg pickers are necessary because not every egg taken during spawning will successfully fertilize and eventually hatch. The “bad” eggs can grow fungus and become harmful to the viable eggs if left intermingled at the hatchery.

The way that an egg picker works is quite simple: All that it requires is some light.

We start by placing the eggs in a tumbler at the top of the egg picker. In the tumbler, flowing water feeds the eggs into the picking device. Individual eggs slide onto a disk that has precisely-cut holes that are the exact size of the eggs so that one egg fits perfectly into each hole. The disk quickly rotates the eggs in a way that allows each egg to pass in front of a light: Light passes through healthy eggs, while bad eggs are opaque and won’t let light through. A light sensor sorts the good and bad eggs into different chutes.

The machine we use at Mantua can pick 100,000 eggs per hour, and there are much faster ones used in hatchery work. As you can imagine, if a hatchery needs to screen millions of eggs for viability, this kind of device can save a lot of time and resources.

#2: Ultraviolet water filtration

At the Springville facility, we use a two-step filtration system to purify the water before it goes out into the raceways where the fish grow until they’re big enough for stocking. We pull water from a nearby pond, and it’s funneled into a treatment building where the water passes through a drum filter and an ultraviolet filter.

The drum filter screens out any debris that may have made its way into the treatment building, then the water flows through the UV filter. UV radiation is commonly used for industrial and medical settings — often for killing bacteria — and different UV wavelengths and intensities are used, depending on the intended purpose. In our hatchery, the UV filter consists of three banks (two of the three operate at any one time), and each bank has three sets of UV lights that kill any bacteria present. Through the combination of both the UV lights and the drum filter, the water that goes into the fish raceways is much cleaner than when it comes into the treatment building.

This filtration system prevents diseases and harmful bacteria from being transmitted to the growing fish. In addition, this ensures that the fish we grow — and the water they’re transported in — won’t spread harmful pathogens to Utah’s waterbodies when the fish are eventually stocked.

#3: Fish transportation and stocking

Each hatchery is in charge of stocking fish in different predetermined waterbodies throughout the state each spring and fall. During those two seasons, each waterbody is allocated a certain amount of stockable fish (typically measured in pounds).

Rainbow trout from our hatchery go to some community ponds in Weber, Salt Lake and Utah counties, as well as a few reservoirs such as Deer Creek and Spanish Oaks. As far as the transportation side of it goes, our trucks have either one or two fish-transportation tanks; we have one of each kind of truck here at the Springville hatchery. Most tanks are about 500 gallons, and can hold up to 750 pounds of catchable fish. That translates to approximately 3,400 8-inch fish.

Fish need sufficient and continually-circulating oxygen to be safely transported to the various stocking locations. Before we put the fish in the tanks, we fill up the truck’s oxygen tanks. There are also aerators inside the tanks themselves to help with water circulation and aid in the removal of carbon dioxide. We fill each tank with water based on the poundage of fish that we are going to stock. Once the fish have been funneled into the tanks, we turn on the oxygen and the aerators, and the fish are ready for transport and stocking. We use the same kind of equipment and processes for aerial stocking using airplanes, but the tanks and the fish are both smaller.

Fish hatchery technologies, equipment and best practices are constantly evolving. I have a lot of excitement about what the future holds in the field of fish culture.

Valerie Gil
Wildlife Biologist, Fish Culture
DWR Springville Fish Hatchery

Posted from the Utah DNR Wildlife Blog.

If You Hunt Ducks Or Are A Conservationalits Or Even An Environmentalists Join Ducks Unlimited

Are you a duck hunter?  Do you like standing in freezing water before daylight hoping to get two or three shots just as it gets legal shooting light? Are you addicted to the thrill of duck hunting?

    Or are you environmentalists, not really interested in hunting but really concerned about conserving our natural environment? Do you want our wetlands kept wild and conserved for the future? Are you rational enough to know our environment can be used while keeping it, which is conservation, rather than totally left alone with no human use like fanatical preservationist demand?

    If you can answer yes to any of those questions you should be a member of Ducks, Unlimited. 

    Ducks, Unlimited (DU) was started in 1937 and currently has about 600,000 adult members in the US, with over 125,000 more in Canada and Mexico.  And there are about 47,000 youth members in the US. There are a lot of people interested in conservation and hunting in North America!

The DU mission tells you what the organization does. It says: “Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.” 

As of the beginning of this year Du had conserved almost 14 million acres in North America, with projects that affected another 127 million acres.  Conserved acres mean land dedicated to wildlife while affected acres may be an area with a project that does not dedicate the total area to duck habitat but improves it.

The most important factor of any organization is the percent of funds raised that actually go to their cause.  With DU it is an admirable 87 percent.  Only 13 percent of all money they get is used for administration, human resources, fund raising and development.  That is better than many other conservation organizations.

DU does not think duck hunting is only for private land owners. Here in Georgia their efforts have helped improve duck hunting in 16 WMAs and other areas open to public hunting.  These areas are spread out over the state so most Georgia hunters have easy access to one.

Some of the ones closest to us here in Griffin include Rum Creek, where a perimeter dyke and water control structures that improve 25 acres there.  Also, at West Point WMA, Glovers Creek, 90 acres of land were improved through replacement of an old water control structure that gave better use of water on the project.

And on Blanton Creek WMA on Bartletts Ferry Lake, two water controls structures were installed to conserve 50 acres.  Water controls structures like these two and others are sometimes as simple as a valve or gate on a dam that allows an area to be drained so grain can be planted then flooded to enhance it for ducks when the grain is mature.

    On some areas these devices use natural flow of water but on Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge there are big diesel pumps that drain huge fields each spring so they can be planted, then they are flooded in the fall when the grain is mature.

    All wildlife, from deer and raccoons to quail and rabbits, benefit from the habitat improvements of DU.  And nongame wildlife benefits, too.  All kinds of bird species use the same habitat as ducks.  Like bluebirds and cardinals?  They definitely benefit from the things DU does.

    The ways DU conserves includes: Restoring grasslands since many kinds of ducks nest in grasslands near wetlands and restoring them improves survival of young ducks, replanting forests because flooded bottomland forest give ideal wintering habitat for ducks, and restoring watersheds since the land around wetlands have a big effect in everything from nutrients to contaminants on the wetland.

    Other areas of conservation include: working with landowners since nearly three fourths of wetlands are in private ownership and most of those private owners are willing to manage them for wildlife, working with partners from other conservation organizations to government agencies, and outright acquiring land to dedicate to conservation, usually by getting it in government agencies control.

    Conservation easements protect land from future development, management agreements give financial incentives to private land owners to improve conservation and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) enables DU to find where habitat work will be most effective. GIS includes combining satellite images with other information like wetland inventories, land use, soil type, wildlife use and other information to give a complete picture.

    If you are a duck hunter DU can help you with everything from information on waterfowl migration patterns to identifying different species of ducks.  The can help you learn the best decoy setups and how to train your retriever.  You can even get shooting tips so you hit more of your targets and calling tips so you get more targets to try to hit.

    Check out their web site for more information at http://www.ducks.org/ and consider joining DU to help conservation of all kinds. A Ducks, Unlimitd membership would be a great Christmas gift for a youth or an adult.  Its not just for the birds!

Georgia DNR OFFERING CAREER CAMP FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS TO EXPLORE PROFESSIONAL PATHS

CAREER CAMP FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS TO EXPLORE PROFESSIONAL PATHS with the Georgia DNR

ATLANTA, Ga. (Jan. 18, 2022) — The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today announced a new program aimed at encouraging high school students to explore careers in conservation.

The Georgia DNR Career Academy, a week-long, overnight summer camp, will be held July 17-23, 2022, at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield and Georgia 4-H at Camp Jekyll on Jekyll Island. High school students will have the opportunity to learn about DNR career paths, and visit wildlife management areas, hatcheries, state parks, and the coast, said Lindsey Brown, the Career Academy’s director.

“Throughout the week, students will get hands-on experience as they learn from DNR game wardens, wildlife, fisheries and marine technicians, park rangers, and support staff,” Brown said. “They’ll have the opportunity to go behind the scenes with DNR staff and see what it takes to conserve Georgia’s natural resources.”

The Career Academy’s activities will include trail blazing and hiking, land navigation, state park hospitality, hunting incident investigation, fishery management, urban wildlife and deer aging, and other programs.  Throughout the week, students will interact with full-time DNR staff and have the chance to ask questions, learn about professional paths, and education requirements.

“Our goal is for students to have a genuine experience with DNR staff and see what their day-to-day jobs are like, whether that’s conducting a prescribed burn, helping find a lost hiker, or gathering data that’s used to open and close the state’s commercial shrimping season,” Brown added.”

Mark Williams, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, said he hopes the Career Academy will provide students with a path to pursue employment with the department, and a clear understanding of the educational requirements necessary.

“Georgia is home to a diverse and growing workforce, and as the state’s lead natural resources agency, we want to make sure DNR is a competitive and enjoyable place to work,” Williams said. “This program will give young Georgians the chance to see how they can turn their passion for the outdoors into a career that conserves our resources and benefits present and future generations.”

The Georgia DNR Career Academy is open to high school students in the fall of 2022. Students do not have to be residents of Georgia. The cost is $100 and includes all meals and lodging. Scholarship opportunities are available to students who qualify on a financial-need basis. Applicants must include a letter of permission from parent or guardian, a letter of recommendation from a teacher, school counselor, school administrator, or club advisor, and complete a virtual interview with a DNR employee.

Applications and more information are available at www.GaDNR.org/CareerAcademy. Contact career.academy@dnr.ga.gov for more information.

Eligible students may also opt to earn technical college credit upon completion of the camp that can be used toward a future education in wildlife management.

What Is A Burbot and How and Where Can I Catch One

IDAHO’S STRANGEST FISH –  The Burdot

– Connor Liess, Idaho Fish & Game Public Information Specialist

from The Fishing Wire

Riddle me this: What lives in the Kootenai River, has the body of a cod, the meat of a lobster and the soul patch of Frank Zappa? No, that’s not a trick question. There really is a species of freshwater cod that calls the Kootenai River home, but that almost came to an end just 20 years ago. Herein lies the tale of one of Idaho’s strangest fish – the burbot.

What’s the deal with burbot?

Burbot – also known as bubbot, cusk, freshwater cod, ling, lingcod and eelpout – are the only freshwater cod species in North America, and they have a special place in Idaho’s heart. With a face that only a mother could love, these long-bodied, cold-water fish are not your run-of-the-mill sport fish. Burbot have flat heads and long bodies that sprout long pectoral fins just behind their gills. Their back-half is eel-like, with stumpy rounded fins. Burbot have brownish-yellow mottled skin, earning them the nickname “Kootenai leopards” among anglers.

As the name implies, these “leopard-like” fish are predatory and feed during the night. They hang out during the day in deep, slow-moving pools, then seek out food such as crayfish or small fish in shallow water. With the help of inward slanting teeth and a funky little chin whisker called a barbel, burbot have no trouble scoping out and hanging on to prey.

Burbot march to the beat of their own drum in more ways than one, but when it comes to reproduction, things get even weirder. Unlike most freshwater fish that spawn in spring or early summer, burbot prefer to do their business in winter. Some Kootenai River burbot will even migrate from watersheds up in Canada, roughly 75 miles away. Spawning can occur from December to late March, with most spawning happening mid-February through mid-March. Females will lay anywhere between 60,000 to 3 million eggs, each being the size a grain of sand. Burbot will often live to 8 to 10 years old, and even longer in other parts of the world.

Unbeknownst to many Idaho anglers, burbot are a healthy sport fish living right here in our backyard, but it didn’t always use to be that way.

Bouncing back

Just 20 years ago, anglers would be hard-pressed to hook a burbot in Idaho’s Kootenai River. It was estimated that only 50 fish remained in 2004. Thanks to an international, multi-state effort including Idaho Fish and Game, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and fisheries biologists from Canada and Montana, Kootenai River’s burbot population recovered.

Research began in the 1990’s, with burbot fishing closed down in 1992 because of a decline in numbers. Biologists started using hoop nets – a non-invasive fish trap – to capture, tag and study these fish. Researchers also tagged burbot with PIT tags to track migration.

In 2004, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho began operating a burbot hatchery in hopes of increasing the population. The Kootenai Tribe took Canadian-spawned burbot eggs back to the hatchery and hatched the tiny eggs from there. Once they reached adolescence, the young fish were released into the Kootenai River.

From the decades’ long research, two important takeaways were found: Burbot weren’t very successful at spawning naturally, and hatchery-raised burbot were surviving but still relied on the hatchery to produce more fish for the population to continue growing.

In 2019, the burbot population finally hit its restoration goal. Partners from the original recovery project are still monitoring burbot populations in the Kootenai River fishery.

You had me at lobster cod

Hit up your buddy to take the rods out on the Kootenai River and its tributaries in mid-winter and you might get a solid “no” before you can even finish your sentence. But tickle their fancy with a prized fresh-water cod that tastes like lobster and it might change their tune.

Anglers will most likely find burbot between mid-February and mid-March when spawning is at its peak, but because burbot fly by night usually, it can be a little challenging to locate them. But before you cast off these unicorn fish as a myth, here are a few fishing tips to help you track down a “Kootenai leopard”:

  • Fish shallow flats (5-15 feet deep) at dusk or during the night.
  • Try river junctions where smaller streams flow into the mainstem of the river.
  • If fishing during the day, try dropping a line in 40-plus foot deep holes. Burbot like to rest in these deep pockets during the day.
  • Anglers can also try ice fishing for burbot on Bonner Lake.
  • Worms and shrimp work well for bait.
  • Use weights to get the line down deep towards the bottom.

Fishing for burbot can be a great way to kick off any angler’s new year. Be sure to dress warm and bring extra layers in case that North Idaho weather takes a turn. Whether you land one of these leopard-like cod or simply use it as a way to get outdoors this winter, burbot fishing is not only a chance to put a delicious, native fish on the supper table, but a true reminder of the persistence and revitalization of one of our state’s fish species.

To learn more about burbot, check out this month’s issue of Wildlife Express. In it you will find all kinds of fun facts, puzzles and more!