Anglers May Get A Chance To Fish For Gila Trout

Gila TroutPhoto by John N. Rinne-USFS

PHOENIX ó They vanished from Arizona waters years ago, but now, the Gila trout may have recovered enough to be reclassified as a "threatened" species, rather than an "endangered" one.

The Gila trout is one of only two native trout species in Arizona. Under a new proposal, the fish would be upgraded to "threatened" on the federal governmentís list.

"Some great strides have been made in Gila trout recovery so far," says Eric Gardner, head of the Arizona Game and Fish Departmentís non-game branch. "Weíre working hard on native fish-conservation issues in Arizona, and itís rewarding to reach these milestones.

Still, our work is not finished."

The Gila trout has been considered "endangered" since 1967. The species is native to some cold mountain streams in western New Mexico and central and eastern Arizona. The introduction of non-native fish and also human actions in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s resulted in the loss or degradation of much of the Gila troutís habitat.

The fish disappeared from Arizona around 1900.

Since 1999, the species has been returned to two Arizona creeks, and work is underway to re-establish the trout in more streams. Arizona efforts are focused on streams that flow into the Blue River and upper Verde River drainages.

New Mexico efforts center around the headwaters of the Gila River.

If the Gila trout is designated as "threatened," then anglers in Arizona could have an opportunity to fish for the species in certain, specified waters sometime in the future.

"Few people alive today have caught a Gila," says Dale Hall, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceís Southwest Region. "We think Gila trout populations can withstand fishing pressure under the right conditions."

"Gila trout populations could be developed in the future that could provide unique catch-and-release fishing opportunities that would be carefully managed by the state," says Larry Riley, head of the Arizona Game and Fish Departmentís fisheries branch.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the final decision on whether to change the status of the Gila trout. Those interested can get a copy of the proposal by calling toll-free (800) 299-0196.

"The work of several groups is bringing us all one step closer to the ultimate goal of full recovery of the Gila trout," says Arizona Game and Fish Department fish biologist Scott Gurtin. "These collaborative efforts, with a solid foundation of Arizona Heritage Fund financial support, have made all the difference.

"Itís important to note that Gila trout recovery efforts have taken place under full protection of the Endangered Species Act, with crucial cooperation from many agencies, conservation groups, landowners, and those with permits to use public lands."

Partners involved in Gila trout recovery include the Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers, have also gotten involved.

The Gila trout is an iridescent gold- and copper-colored fish with small black spots on its sides and back. This type of trout grows to be about a foot long.