Angler holding smallmouth bass

Utah Wildlife Board approves several changes to fishing limits throughout Utah, other amendments to wildlife rules

Angler holding smallmouth bass
Angler holding smallmouth bass

Salt Lake City — The Utah Wildlife Board approved a few changes to some of Utah's fishing regulations, along with a few other rule amendments during Thursday's virtual public meeting.

2021–2022 fishing recommendations

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conducted surveys during the spring of 2020 to get feedback from anglers across the state on some of the proposed changes. The majority of anglers were in support of the recommendations.

The following changes to statewide fishing rules were approved by the wildlife board:

  • Clarifying that kokanee salmon are included in the statewide four trout limit that includes salmon, grayling and hybrids (a combined total). Previously anglers were confused by the regulation and many thought the limit meant four trout and four kokanee salmon, when in fact it means four total fish. This change will also clarify that anglers may not possess kokanee salmon at any waterbody statewide from Sept. 10 through Nov. 30.
  • Decreasing the statewide wiper daily limit from six fish to three fish at all waterbodies. Wipers are a sterile fish and can't reproduce, so their populations are solely dependent on stocking. Decreasing the harvest would allow for more consistent numbers at all of Utah's waterbodies that offer wipers.
  • Increasing the statewide daily limit for northern pike from six fish to 20 fish, with one over 36 inches. Because northern pike are voracious predators, this change would help protect native fish species and sportfish.
  • Allowing anglers to use bait without a hook to fish for crayfish in waterbodies where bait is prohibited. This change is being proposed due to the difficulty of catching crayfish without the use of bait.

The following approved changes are specific to certain waterbodies across Utah:

  • Decreasing the Flaming Gorge bass daily limit from 10 fish to three fish (smallmouth and largemouth bass combined) in collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. If approved by both states, this regulation would go into effect in the Utah portion of Flaming Gorge on Jan. 1, 2021 and the Wyoming portion on Jan. 1, 2022.
  • The board also proposed and approved sending a letter to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to request a fee-reciprocity agreement between Utah and Wyoming for fishing at Flaming Gorge.
  • Increasing the maximum number of kokanee salmon allowed in the Flaming Gorge daily trout limit to four fish instead of three.
  • Increasing the Pelican Lake bluegill daily limit from zero to 15 fish, allowing five fish to be over 7 inches.
  • Creating a seasonal closure for spearfishing at Red Fleet Reservoir.
  • Decreasing the daily limit at Red Fleet Reservoir from 50 for each panfish species (bluegill, green sunfish, black crappie and yellow perch) to a combined total of 50 panfish, with no more than 20 black crappie in that total.
  • Decreasing the daily limit at Starvation Reservoir from 50 for each panfish species (bluegill, green sunfish, black crappie and yellow perch) to a combined total of 20 panfish.
  • Adjusting the fishing closure dates at both West Fork Duchesne River and Wolf Creek from Jan. 1 through the second Saturday in July to May 15 through the second Saturday of July. This change will increase fishing opportunities in the area.
  • Opening part of Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City to fishing. Upstream of the entrance to Red Butte Canyon Research Natural Area to the headwaters would remain closed to fishing. This proposed change would give anglers in Salt Lake City an additional fishing opportunity.
  • Closing Ken's Lake to spearfishing in order to protect a vulnerable sportfish population.
  • Adjusting spearfishing closure dates at Fish Lake to the first Saturday in June through Sept. 9, in order to coincide with the statewide kokanee salmon fishing closures.
  • Clarifying that any tagged northern pike caught at Utah Lake must be released back into the lake. (They are part of an ongoing study that's trying to identify pike spawning areas in the lake.) All untagged northern pike caught at Utah Lake must be killed immediately.

Rule amendments for fishing contests and clinics

In addition to the changes in fishing limits and regulations, the wildlife board also approved a few changes to the current fishing contest rule. These changes were proposed by DWR biologists in an effort to streamline contest options and to remove the discrepancies between fishing for warmwater and coldwater species.

"These changes will both simplify the rule and remove contest restrictions that lack biological rationale and are unnecessarily restrictive," DWR Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger said. "The changes also remove differences between contests for warmwater and coldwater species that exist under the current rule."

The approved change would only require a certificate of registration (COR) for tournaments or contests that include one of the following:

  • 85 or more participants
  • Awarding $2,000 or more in prizes
  • A live weigh-in
  • A tagged fish contest

Under the approved change, a COR will not be required for catch-and-release tournaments, many of which are "online" or "paper" tournaments, where anglers are only required to take a picture or measure a fish. Separate DWR rules prohibit the release of coldwater fish after they are possessed by an angler. This means that high-grading — a practice that involves keeping a fish alive until a bigger fish is caught so the smaller one can be released — will still not be allowed in coldwater fishing tournaments because the fish typically don't survive after being held. This also means that coldwater fish cannot be released alive after they are weighed or measured as part of a tournament.

Rule amendment to waive combination/hunting license fees for deployed military

The wildlife board also approved a proposal to waive the combination and hunting license fees for active military members who missed the opportunity to acquire a bonus or preference point while deployed. The rule change will also allow Utah military members to purchase a preference or bonus point if they missed the application period while deployed.

To qualify for the exemptions, military members must:

  • Be a resident of Utah
  • Be deployed for 90 days or longer outside of Utah on federal orders from military command
  • Not have previously received a bonus or preference point for the species and hunt type in the same year
  • Otherwise be eligible to receive a bonus or preference point
  • Pay a $10 application fee per point received
  • Submit an application for the exemption to DWR no later than Dec. 31 of the qualifying year of being deployed

Eliminating duplicative Sensitive Species list

While the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Endangered Species List throughout the U.S., the Utah Department of Natural Resources oversees a state-specific Sensitive Species list. A species is classified as sensitive if it is likely to undergo substantial population declines in all or part of its natural range without management intervention.

The Sensitive Species list was implemented in the 1990s, but it was formalized in 2001 in Utah Administrative Code. After receiving feedback from the wildlife board during the Aug. 28 board meeting, as well as feedback from legislators, the DWR proposed to repeal the rule and eliminate the Sensitive Species list during Thursday's meeting, as it is duplicative of the Utah Wildlife Action Plan, which was implemented in 2005. Both the Sensitive Species list and the Wildlife Action Plan work to identify the native species that may be of greatest conservation need. The DWR then implements research and management of those wildlife species and their habitats in order to prevent the need for listings under the Endangered Species Act.

The Wildlife Action Plan qualifies the state for federal funding from the State Wildlife Grants Program, as well as state funds that are administered through the Endangered Species Mitigation Fund. No funding will be lost in eliminating the redundancy of the Sensitive Species list. The rule change will streamline the process to help species of greatest conservation need in Utah, and it was approved by the wildlife board during Thursday's meeting.

Other approved changes

The audit for the 2020 Utah Conservation Permit Program was approved during the meeting as well. The Utah Conservation Permit Program was launched in 1980 in an effort to increase funding for wildlife conservation projects throughout Utah. Each year, the Utah Wildlife Board designates a small percentage of limited-entry hunting permits as "conservation and expo permits."

The conservation permits are offered to conservation and sportsman's groups who then auction them at banquets, fundraisers and other events. The conservation groups return 90% of the money raised from these permit sales to the DWR. Thirty percent is a cash transfer that directly benefits the species for which permits were sold, and the other 60% goes toward conservation and research projects like habitat enhancement, wildlife transplants, aerial surveys and deer survival studies. The remaining 10% of the proceeds are retained by the conservation groups to help cover administrative costs.

The wildlife board also approved a few changes to the expo and conservation cougar permits. Because many cougar units in Utah are now being managed as predator control units, hunt strategies on some conservation and expo permit units have changed. These units can now be hunted with a harvest-objective permit that can be obtained over the counter or online and do not hold the value they did when they were limited-entry hunting opportunities.

As a result, the wildlife board approved the recommendation from DWR that the individuals who drew expo permits this year will be awarded a permit for alternate units near the original unit that are still split-hunting units. The board also approved no cougar unit permits be marketed and offered for sale in 2021, except one statewide conservation permit, to avoid having to make similar changes if other units fall under predator management plans.

The livestream of Thursday's Utah Wildlife Board meeting is available on the DNR YouTube channel.

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