A sterile approach to sport fishing

Every July for the past several years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has hosted a tournament at Ridgway State Park to catch and kill as many smallmouth bass as possible. Prizes ranging from $5,000 in cash to a bass boat have been awarded for most fish, biggest fish and smallest fish caught.
At Elkhead Reservoir, there’s an annual tournament in June to catch and keep and kill as many northern pike and smallmouth bass as possible. Cash prizes of $4,500 and a similar value in fishing gear are awarded.
In 2013, CPW drained Miramonte Reservoir just to eradicate illegally stocked smallmouth bass.
CPW doesn't want these creatures in our reservoirs, where they devour the good sport fish and get downstream and devour native fish, some of which are endangered.
Good enough.
But imagine my initial surprise when CPW sent out a press release this week saying it is stocking sterile walleye in the Narraguinnep Reservoir, situated west of Rico, and will monitor the non-native fish.
The reservoir is connected to the San Juan River Basin, and CPW is concerned that the walleye may reproduce, escape and tear into endangered fish downstream.
"Our concern, which we share with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is that if walleye escape into the San Juan River they would pose a major threat to the endangered razorback sucker and pike minnow," said Jim White, aquatic biologist in Durango.
A major threat, he says. But hey, let's go ahead and do it anyway.
This stocking has been going on since 2008, and CPW is hoping to prove a 95 percent success rate in the sterilization process. If it can, it hopes to make a good case to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services to stock more walleye in the reservoir and in other Western Slope reservoirs for sport fishing.
Narraguinnep is a warm water reservoir, which is perfect for walleye, except for the effort and expense needed to assure it doesn't get into the San Juan River basin and wreak havoc.
Walleye, sterile or not, can easily live for 10 or more years. They have a voracious appetite and are best fooled when fishing with live bait.
So why even stock them if there is risk?
Because…CPW has more prize money and bass boats to give away?
Seriously. CPW needs to stop. Walleye, which range in length from 2.5-3 feet and can weigh from 10-20 pounds, are native to such well-known, local waters located in…ahem...Canada, the Great Lakes, the Missouri River basin and upper Mississippi River basin.
Sure, you could make the argument that not all trout species in Colorado waters are native to Colorado. But surely they coexist with native species much better than walleye, which eat anything that moves and eat lots of it.
I've fished for walleye in the Great Lakes region and caught a few. They are tough fish and fun to catch. But they don't belong in Colorado waters. Really, if you have to sterilize them, monitor them and worry about them wiping out endangered species, what's the point?
In March 2017, the irrigation company that owns Narraguinnep Reservoir, Montezuma Valley Irrigation, closed the lake to all boating to avoid the chance of an invasive mussel contamination being introduced from standing water within crafts. The closure continues to today.
"If they get in there, we can't deliver water to our stockholders," Brandon Johnson, general manager of MVI, told the Durango Herald.
And that begs the question, how is CPW making a sport out of walleye fishing when fishing from boats is the most productive way to fish for walleye, either by trolling or jigging?
If CPW really wants to assure the San Juan River basin is free of walleye, may I suggest a large bonfire, a tub of beer batter and a few adult beverages. We'll just have us a sterile little fish fry.

Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at atodd@ouraynews.com.