The Utah Wildlife Board Thursday approved a number of minor changes proposed by fisheries biologists for 2013, cautiously hurried up a decision to open a seasonal closure on a popular water and set the stage for possible controversy.
Little attention was paid to the proposed regulation changes for the 2013 Fishing Guidebook from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which were ultimately approved. The board, fishing groups and anglers instead focused on items that were not part of the original proposal, but surfaced while those regulations were being presented to the public.
Anglers at a meeting in the southeastern region of the state showed up early this year in numbers to ask that a seasonal closure at Joes Valley Reservoir in Sevier County from Nov. 1 to the second Saturday of December be lifted. The closure had been implemented when the reservoir was being used to grow trophy-size splake a hybrid between a lake trout and brook trout. The state wildlife agency has shifted its focus at Joes Valley to tiger muskie, an aggressive predator hybrid between a northern pike and a true muskie. Fishing is good for tiger muskie in the fall and anglers want the chance to fish for them at Joes Valley during that time.
Fisheries biologists did not include the change, which they said they had no issue with, in the proposed regulations because it was not part of the presentation made across the state to the public. Wildlife Board members were uncomfortable making the change without an "official" public presentation on Joes Valley, but in voting for it realized if nothing happened Thursday it wouldn't be possible to open it until 2014.
"I understand the public process, but on this particular issue I have no problem whatsoever opening it for next year," said Wildlife Board member John Bair.
Board member Mike King voted against opening the reservoir for 2013, but not because he disagreed with the idea.
"The public process is very important. I have no problem with what we are doing. I just want to honor the public process," he said.
Liberalizing and expanding the opportunity to spearfish in Utah also came up during public presentations, but was not included in Thursday's proposed changes.
"I'm not sure why rules that apply to line fishermen also do not apply to spearfishermen. I believe there are misconceptions, false perceptions, that spearfishing is easy," said Terry Reist, representing the Utah Spearfishing Association. "If limits are in place, they should apply to everyone. You cannot discriminate against a group because someone who does not participate in that sport or doesn't understand it thinks it is an unfair advantage."
Reist pointed out, for example, that spearfishing is currently limited from June through November on a limited number of waters.
George Sommer with the Utah Bass Federation said Utah allows more spearfishing opportunities than its neighboring states and his group is opposed to liberalizing regulations.
"It is it our intention to take this to the RACs (Regional Advisory Councils) and Wildlife Board next year to review regulations and address the conflicts. Once the spear is released and the fish is shot, that fish is done. With hook and line fishing we can choose to keep or release that fish," Sommer said.
Wildlife Board members recognized the potential controversy and asked the DWR to work with spearfishers and other anglers to develop new spearfishing regulations.
Also Thursday, the Wildlife Board asked the state wildlife agency to explore the current law limiting anglers to having in their possession only the daily limit of fish. In the case of trout, that limit is four.
"I don't like it. I don't like it one bit," Bair said.
Discussion on the issue pointed out that people may be discouraged from taking multiple-day fishing trips if they can only keep four fish. It was also clarified that having more than four trout in the freezer at home is also illegal.
That was the case when a middle-aged couple from West Valley City was busted for having 174 trout in their home freezer in 2003. Law enforcement discovered the couple was making multiple trips in a day to Willow Pond community fishery in Murray to stock the freezer. The idea of community ponds is to give anglers, namely children, who otherwise may not be able to make trips to fishing destinations, a chance to wet a line.
Utah fishing regulations
Some of the changes for 2013.
Weber River • All cutthroat trout caught on the Weber between the Great Salt Lake and Echo Dam must be released.
Blacksmith Fork • A bonus limit of four brown trout allowed for a maximum of eight trout if at least are brown trout but only one fish can be more than 15 inches.
Green River, statewide • Catch and kill on walleye and northern pike with no limit. No limit on channel catfish (but anglers can release fish).
More hooks • Anglers of all disciplines can use up to three hooks per line statewide.
Bowfishing at night • Bowfishing at night with lights is allowed across the state with the exception of the tributaries to Utah Lake which will be closed May to the second Saturday of July to protect spawning June suckers, a protected species.