Fisheries Experiment Station research
The Fisheries Experiment Station (FES) research program conducts applied aquatic research throughout Utah. Much of our research is conducted in collaboration with regional Division of Wildlife Resources staff and serves the needs of hatchery and field biologists statewide.
The FES research program has been involved in fisheries research since the early 1960s. Historically, research focused on improving fish health protocols and evaluating new fish culture techniques. Presently, our research duties are broad and have expanded to encompass additional questions and challenges that relate to the conservation and management of Utah's aquatic resources.
Current research projects
Our current research seeks to answer questions that address sportfish management, native species recovery efforts, aquatic invasive species, and improvements in fish health diagnostics. A subset of current research projects is listed below.
Developing and improving warm water fish culture
The FES research staff is involved with warm water fish culture throughout Utah. We assist with spawning efforts through training, quality assurance, literature review, and data analysis. Often, our warm water efforts target production of sterile fishes using triploid methods or sterile crosses between two similar species.
Stocking sterile fishes provides managers with greater population control and can be used to increase angling opportunities while minimizing the potential for negative interactions with native species.
Recent warm water spawning efforts include Hybrid Striped Bass, Tiger Muskie, and Walleye.
Brook Trout triploid swamping
Brook Trout is an introduced species to Utah that provides angling opportunities but may also compete with native salmonids and other fishes.Field and modeling efforts are underway to evaluate the effectiveness of triploid "swamping" on diploid Brook Trout populations in an effort to remove Brook Trout from some streams where native fishes occur. The swamping strategy is based on the idea that the introduction of sterile individuals into a population will reduce the reproductive potential of the fertile population.
If successful, triploid swamping offers an alternative to chemical treatments in streams identified for native species restoration efforts.
Assessing attitudes of Utah anglers about fishing opportunities available
We are analyzing survey data from lapsed anglers (those who have stopped buying fishing licenses in the state of Utah). These data help us understand why some individuals stop participating in fishing and other outdoor opportunities.
Collectively, these results will be used to address Utah's R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) initiative with the overall goal of increasing participation in hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities through Utah.
Starvation Reservoir bioenergetics
Starvation Reservoir is an important resource to northeast Utah and provides angling opportunities for several sport fishes including Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, and Rainbow Trout.
To support these top-tier predators, biologists must also manage forage species to ensure adequate food availability. We are using age and growth data coupled with bioenergetics modeling to evaluate consumption rates, population structure, and growth efficiency of both predator and prey species in Starvation Reservoir. These data will provide regional biologists with a better understanding of forage availability to sport fishes and will help guide future management to maintain a balanced fishery.
Southern Leatherside Chub propagation
The Southern Leatherside Chub is native to Utah where its distribution and abundance has declined. Hatchery propagation and release back into suitable habitats is one management tool biologists can use to supplement existing populations of native species, including the Southern Leatherside Chub.
We are working with DWR fish culture staff to develop a protocol for raising Southern Leatherside in captivity. The goal of this project is to develop a working protocol that can be transferred to hatchery personnel for full-scale production of this species.
Sperm (also known in fish culture as "milt") availability is a constant concern for the production of many species of fish. Artificial propagation of sport fish is a primary tool in managing fisheries and meeting angler expectations in Utah.
To meet these needs, various strains and species are used to facilitate stocking and population augmentation throughout the state, necessitating milt be available at times outside of its natural occurrence. Using liquid nitrogen, it is possible to suspend and reanimate milt for the fertilization of eggs.
FES research staff are working with DWR fish culture staff to refine the techniques for cryopreservation of milt for various species in Utah, notably cutthroat trout. Such efforts would aid conservation efforts where milt availability is a concern.
Boreal Toad conservation
Boreal Toads are an endemic high-alpine species of toads native to Utah. With the spread of the chytrid fungal pathogen, populations of Boreal Toads have declined across their range.
FES research staff have been working on several projects to aid in the monitoring and conservation of this species throughout Utah. Recent efforts have succeeded in the captive propagation of Boreal Toads at Wahweap Hatchery, which will facilitate reintroduction and augmentation of declining populations. Using long-term data sets, we are evaluating the population viability of Boreal Toads and helping guide restoration efforts.
We are also aiding in visible elastomer tagging of juvenile toads to better understand early life-history survival and dispersal.
See FES Research Publications for list of published articles (titles and abstracts) by the FES research staff.
Robert has been the team leader for the FES Research Section since 2018. He earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in wildlife biology at Missouri State University under Dr. Dan Beckman. His master's degree work focused on life history traits of freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) in the Lower Missouri River. That project documented the presence of dreissinid mussels and absence of native unionid mussels or aquatic snails in the diets of these fish.
Robert received his Ph.D. in environmental science from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, under Dr. Mark Pyron. His doctoral research evaluated assemblage-level effects of invasive silver carp (Hypophthalmichthyes molitrix). He also studied macrosystem scale predictors of species' occurrence in the mountain steppe regions of the U.S. and northern Mongolia and modeled the effects of changing climate on native and invasive fish species' distributions in the U.S. Great Basin.
Jack is the assistant team leader in the FES research section. He earned his B.S. in biology at James Madison University and his M.S. in wildlife and fisheries science from Texas A&M. Jack's graduate work investigated reproductive traits of several unionid mussels: false spike (Fusconaia mitchelli), golden orb (Quadrula aurea), and Texas pimpleback (Quadrula petrina). Before joining FES, Jack spent time working for the Illinois Natural History Survey, Drexel University — Boiko Biodiversity Protection Program, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Skylar has worked as a research biologist at FES since 2020. He is from Virginia and completed a B.S. in fisheries science at Virginia Tech in 2017. During his time at Virginia Tech, Skylar held seasonal fisheries positions that included sportfish management activities with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and native fish conservation efforts with the Virginia Conservation Management Institute.
After completing his B.S., Skylar began graduate work with the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University where he graduated in December 2019 with an M.S. in fisheries and aquatic ecology. His thesis research focused on movement and survival patterns of stocked rainbow trout in Ozark streams and assessed potential interactions over habitat resources between trout and native fishes.