Utah Department of Wildlife Resource begins spring gillnetting

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The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources has begun gillnetting at Strawberry Reservoir to determine the reservoir’s ecological status.

Gillnetting is a research practice in which nets are placed in several spots throughout a body of water. Fish are harmlessly caught in the net, and researchers analyze the fish’s skin and stomach samples to determine the health of the fish supply. The fish are then released into the wild.

Courtesy of DWR
DWR researchers pull in an early morning gillnet full of trout. Fish are harmlessly caught in the net, and researchers analyze the fish’s skin and stomach samples to determine the health of the fish supply. (Division of Wildlife and Resources)

According to a 2012 report by Wildlife Resources, Strawberry Reservoir goes a step further in its gillnetting efforts by utilizing a mesh add-on to the gillnet. Smaller species of fish too small for the net’s holes, including chubs and shiners, are caught in the mesh. This helps for more in-depth analysis.

Alan Ward, of the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, works directly in the gillnetting process. “We place marks on the fish that we can see under a black light. Almost like a tattoo,” Ward said. “We can essentially track them through time to track survivability and growth rate.”

DWR completes the gillnetting and analyzing process twice a year in both the spring and the fall, according to Ward. While most bigger bodies of water have a monitoring process similar to gillnetting, Strawberry officials put extra effort behind research. “It’s one of the most-fished places in Utah, so we place a little more emphasis on it here at Strawberry,” Ward said.

Matthew Hardin, a private Utah fishing guide, knows gillnetting is an important part of maintaining a fishing reservoir’s delicate ecological balance. ” Gillnetting helps to make sure that the fish are doing okay and are ready to be fished,” Hardin said. “If they need to, they will use data from gillnetting to set regulations to protect the fish.”

According to Hardin, gillnetting is a practice that enhances the overall experience for fishermen who travel to Strawberry. “Because it helps DWR maintain fishing levels, gillnetting makes it easier to pull up a wider variety of fish,” Hardin said. “That way you’re not pulling up cutthroats all day when you went out looking for rainbow trout.”

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