Steamboat Springs They're fun to catch, but northern pike and several other non-native fish aren't exactly welcomed in the Yampa River.
On Wednesday and Thursday, county and state officials will meet with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as they try to work out a plan to recover endangered fish that are native to the Yampa River.
Over the years, non-native fish like the voracious northern pike have been introduced into the Upper Colorado River Basin, either on purpose or by accident. The problem is, they have been crowding out or eating up native fish such as pike minnow (Colorado squawfish), razorback suckers, humpback and bonytail chubs.
"They're all competing for holes habitat especially during dry times," said Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall, who also is the chairman of the Yampa River Basin Partnership.
The partnership between Moffat and Routt counties was formed in 1994 to study natural resource issues important to the Yampa River basin. For example, the partnership helps implement measures locally to ensure endangered fish will be protected.
The most controversial part of the so-called fish recovery program is what to do with non-native fish that are popular with some sportsmen but are a danger to native fish.
The northern pike is one of those "foreign" fish.
"They're quite large, ravenous predators so there are a group of sport fishing people that dearly love the pike and don't want to see them lost," said Dan Birch with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.
Then there are some trout fisherman who look at it a different way. "These fish (northern pike) eat trout, in addition to other native species," Birch pointed out.
The non-native fish that have been cited as causing problems for the endangered native fish are the northern pike, channel catfish, smallmouth bass and black crappie.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the state of Colorado has been doing a good job of trying to please both sides.
"Colorado has been dealing with that issue and has gone above and beyond in trying to address the concerns," said Gerry Roehm, the Yampa River coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Roehm said the state is using a number of methods of taking out non-native fish by using traps, nets and other fishing devices.
"They're taking them out of rivers and putting them in ponds and reservoirs," Roehm said.
So what's the chance of the state catching all those non-native fish and relocating them?
"It's probably worse than herding cats," Beall said.
And putting non-native fish back into the reservoirs doesn't guarantee they won't return to the rivers.
It was back in 1992 that smallmouth bass were flooded out of Elkhead Reservoir north of Craig. Although they were put there for sport fishermen, the bass ended up in the Yampa.
The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to hammer out a consensus on fish recovery and other issues involving water use on the Yampa River and put together a management plan for the recovery of endangered fish.