Fraser River can only be saved by educated users
May 21, 2008
To the Editor:
The Fraser River is endangered. Everyone in the valley should be aware of this fact by now. Over 60 percent of the water that would otherwise flow down the Fraser is diverted to the Front Range. Fifty-six percent grows beautiful lawns of Kentucky blue grass. Despite this tragedy, the Fraser River is a healthy, self-sustaining fishery. The reason it is endangered is that the water that actually makes it a river is threatened.
The Fraser needs to be saved on an entirely different level than that sensationalized in this forum.
First of all, let us look at river usage by fishermen. There are different levels of usage.
Usage by outfitters, especially those educated in low impact and conservation principles, have considerably less impact on a river system than your average fisherman. Let us take that thought a step further. Let us consider the same outfitter above, but let us throw in principles like: catch-and-release, barbless hooks, knowledge in the area of correct fish handling, knowledge of the temperature sensitivity of the fish and the self control to act accordingly, a desire to save the Fraser River, motivation to educate everyone to the river’s plight; we can go on…
Next let us consider what happens if your average fisherman wants to fish the Fraser River but cannot secure a guide for the experience. When he fishes it on his own, is the impact to the resource going to be the same? Will it be worse? Will it be to the same standard as a guided trip? We cannot say for sure until it is too late. The “dangerous and unprecedented addition of more pressure” Mr. Dines (letter to the editor, May 20) writes of, can be more rationally stated: Guided fishing does not mean added usage; it means educated, responsible usage.
Mr. Dines has valid concerns but no cited historical documentation. “Easily accessed streams near urban centers (W.P. and Fraser) get environmentally stressed to the point of failure by overuse from the general public.” The Fraser River has gained notoriety as of late for several reasons. It has been listed as the third most endangered river in the United States. Anglers have long wanted to experience what it has to offer because of its reputation and, because of the recent listing, now wish to do so before it is too late. The Fraser will continue to see more angling usage.
A Trout Unlimited sponsored film crew recently filmed an episode about the Fraser as part of their series on endangered rivers in North America. When this airs later this month, the interest in our river will grow all the more. The total length of the Fraser River is about 29 miles. Most of that length conducive to angling is private land. With limited access, public stretches are sure to see more usage. Education is the only answer to mitigate that impact.
We recently began our guide training with the help of Kirk Klancke, director of Winter Park West Water and Sanitation, president of Trout Unlimited Headwaters Chapter, and our greatest defender of the Fraser River water supply. Also involved was Division of Wildlife Biologist Jon Ewert. They educated us as to the current state of the river and ecosystem, as well as issues and plans for the not-so-distant future. In short, things that all who would come to the river’s defense should be aware of.
For example, The Kemp/Breeze unit, which includes a portion of the Colorado River and the lower Williams Fork River, has approximately 21,000 fisherman visits per year. 1,100 of those are guided. Based on studies conducted by Jon Ewert and the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), in 1981 the Kemp/Breeze unit of the Colorado River had 279 pounds of trout per surface acre. Currently, we have 272 pounds per surface acre in the Colorado River. These fish are caught 43 times per year on average. We are still catching them and they look healthy and beautiful. Over the last 16 years the difference in numbers is marginal, and is actually encompassed by standard deviation of statistics. The fishery remains unaffected in the face of increased angling pressure. This population of trout is 90 percent browns to 10 percent Rainbows. This ratio was the inverse in 1986. The cause of this inversion was whirling disease. Due to research done by the DOW, they have a new strain of rainbow called the Hofer strain, a whirling disease-resistant rainbow trout. This strain is actually the Colorado River strain. Having been transplanted in Germany to be raised as a food fish, it developed a resistance to whirling disease that is found in the German brown trout. This resistance is from evolving in the same waters.
In 2008, 80,000 Hofer rainbows will be introduced in the Colorado, Williams Fork, and Blue river drainages to invert the rainbow/brown ratio back to its 1986 fish count. The Fraser River data shows gains in rainbow trout since 2003. In 2003, the Fraser contained 11 pounds per surface acre. By 2006, it had increased to 71 pounds per surface acre (within the Safeway test area). The pure strain of Colorado River Rainbow increased in numbers from 6 to 344. These numbers would indicate that, first of all, the stream improvement in 2005 (FREP) has had an incredibly positive effect on the fishery. Additionally, the increased angling pressure Mr. Dines speaks of (“…in two short, dramatic years, there’s four times the fisherman”) has had no negative affect. It would, however, be a positive step for Mr. Dines to take his census data to the Colorado Division of Wildlife as they welcome extra data in fisherman numbers to help in their management efforts.
Fraser Valley/Grand County Residents have always heard anecdotes about big fish and lots of them in the Fraser River from when they were kids. If we are to believe these stories (and we personally would like to), then we must look at more impact than simply anglers. We must consider factors like decreased flows, decreased water quality, and habitat degradation from development.
It is unrealistic to ask the Fraser Valley to curb its growth. It is also of note to consider our own fragile economy. Can we really afford to turn away more potential economic growth so we can keep our “secret”? We are concerned about our ecosystem above and below the surface of the water and are ready to address increased fishing pressure through education. Every concerned fisherman should be lining up to help. We encourage all who hold the Fraser River dear to visit with us and understand our proposal and operating plan.
Mo and Henry
Concerned, educated fishermen