Apache Trout – From near Extinction to EcoTourism

what is up everyone I’m Al Barrus with
the US Fish & Wildlife Service southwest region and you are listening
to Shop Talk for this episode we are talking shop with fish biologists at the
Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery and you can hear the waters of that
Creek flowing to the hatchery incubation facility here on the Fort Apache
reservation in eastern Arizona where the service is working with the tribe to
restore Apache trout for the uninitiated Arizona may seem an
unlikely fishing destination on conjuring images of Arizona the Grand
Canyon and saguaro cacti come to mind not so much cold water Brooks and Alpine
climbs where trout live however as is the case with most things Arizona isn’t so
black and white this state is home to many fishes there is in fact a fish here
that can be found anywhere else in the world that is Arizona state fish the
Apache trout not normally occurring in large bodies of water the Apache trout
is native to the small cool streams around the White Mountains of eastern
Arizona this species faced extinction due to competition from non-native trout
which were introduced for recreation listed under the Endangered Species Act
of 1973 the Apache trout is among those first species to gain federal protection
in 1975 the species was down listed to threatened which opened the door for
recreation US Fish and Wildlife Service southwest region fish biologists
continue to work to restore this unique creature to its original habitat and to
supply the trout for recreation as explained by the Zachary Jackson the
project coordinator and supervisory fish biologist for the white river station of
the Service’s Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation office
several service programs come together to further Apache trout conservation The Ecological Services program
works on threatened and endangered species issues the Arizona Fish and
Wildlife Conservation office works to implement recovery actions working
closely with our partners and then the hatchery program also plays a role in
sport fish production for Apache trout as well as producing an Apache trout
stock that could be used for recovery purposes over the course of time you
know there were a number of threats to Apache trout maybe most significant
where there was probably some overfishing early on in their in their
history they were very popular as well as other sport fish were introduced into
their range and really constricted their habitat to the headwaters of their
native range those non-native trout’s that were introduced for improved sport
fishing opportunities they have a few different interactions with Apache trout
that negatively affect them the Apache Tribe has very much become an underdog
and so neighborhood rainbow and brook trout were brought in and compete with
Apache trout for food and space and interbreed with them complicating
recovery further rainbow brook and brown trout remained favorites for many
recreational anglers it can be difficult to convince outdoorsmen to give up on a
large game fish for a smaller child but is listed as threatened there’s
hybridization that occurs that dilutes the Apache trout gene pool there’s
competition for food and space with Apache trout and that reduces their
ability to increase in abundance and be robust and then there’s direct predation
by some of these non-native trout with a coalition between federal state and
tribal partners recovery and conservation is moving forward
hatcheries exists to not only ensure a strong gene pool for recovery at the
trout but also here at Williams Creek fish are bred for the sole purpose of
recreation part of the recovery process involves removing the non-native trout
from designated Apache trout habitat the common way biologists remove unwanted
species is through electro fishing using voltage that
attracts and temporarily stuns fish they’re also using new technology to
learn where to find those fish we’re coupling traditional or
well-established Fisheries techniques like barrier construction and
maintenance to keep non-natives out of prime Apache trout habitat and
non-native removals using backpack electro fishing with newer technologies
like a DNA sampling a DNA or environmental DNA sampling it’s a in the
way that we’re using it it’s a technique where we can collect a sample of water
and filter out from that particles from tissue of different living organisms and
we can target what we’re looking for so the way we use it is we look for non
native trout DNA in the water and we take systematic sampling along a stream
course that allow us to tell where say brown trout are in a system and we
usually don’t employ it until we think we’ve gotten the brown trout population
really low but it allows us to find those few remaining individuals and
target them for removal well Brown and rainbow trout are common
game fishing staples throughout much of the US and patchy trial offers new
opportunities for anglers the world over who will come from far and wide to catch
a fish that’s only found in the white mountains of Arizona Apache trout are
important to the economy because there is a lot of folks that put a high value
on capturing them and so it brings in a lot of tourist dollars to the area which
is very important for the White Mountain Apache Tribe it also brings in tourist
dollars to the surrounding area I think native trout enthusiasts are
particularly interested in Apache trout because they’re very rare they we put
the same value on them many people do that we would put on diamonds which
they’re also you know extremely rare and beautiful while the US Fish and Wildlife
Service is charged with recovering threatened and endangered species and
helping to provide recreational fishing opportunities is important further
conservation efforts the services role is very much a supportive one in the
case of this unique trout it’s critical for us to have a good strong
relationship with the White Mountain Apache Tribe they were the first
stewards of Apache trout they have been leading the conservation efforts since
the beginning and our role here is in a supportive role now we’re doing at
whatever we can we’re coordinating very closely with how and where we implement
recovery actions we’re working with the tribe to constantly evaluate our wild
populations and focus efforts where new threats arise and without that
partnership we wouldn’t be able to we wouldn’t be able to save the species but
Williams Creek hasn’t always been for the benefit of the Apache trout
originally this hatchery was built to produce game trout for the tribe in the
1930s the first year of operation they attempted but they failed to propagate a
patchy trout and it wasn’t until the 1980s that biologists were successful at
breeding Apache trout there at the hatchery technology used at this
hatchery is on the cutting edge Williams Creek fish biologists Russell
wood explains some techniques they use to further recovery of this fish apache
trout are difficult to raise they’re slower growing than the other species of
trout due to a slower metabolism they’re more susceptible to diseases which can
make them difficult to raise today the hatchery staff may only spawned the
trout this process is normally harmful for the fish and they spawn every year
an important part of keeping captive Apache trout is checking the ovarian
fluid to look for any diseases and that comes out with the eggs the males are
also stripped of their sperm which is called Milt the hatchery uses
state-of-the-art techniques to emulate a habitat safe from predators and free of
diseases this morning we were spawning apache trout yesterday we sorted the
female four-year-old apache trout for ripeness we
had over a hundred ripe fish so this morning we got in and we essentially
knocked the fish out with a drug to make it safe to handle her eggs are hand
stripped into a colander to drain the ovarian fluid off they are then put into
a bowl and the males are stripped of their Milt for fertilization and the
eggs are water hardened for one hour and then put away into he stacks incubation
stacks to incubate the eggs in milk mix for a while and then go on to become
something greater than the sum of their parts new Apache trot embryos the
hatchery is also using some newer techniques they’re using milk harvested
in the field from wild Apache trout it’s been preserved in low temperatures and
stored and now they’re mixing it with hatchery eggs and so they can enhance
their stock that spread primarily for recreational fishing yeah this year for
the first time we’re trying to introduce wild genetic material from the wild back
into our hatchery population last year we went up in the mountains in the
spring and spawned wild males and we cryo preserved there Milt it’s a
technology that’s been used for a lot of years in the livestock industry with
cattle and horses the mill was mixed with an extender and sucked up into
small straws and essentially frozen on liquid nitrogen at minus 300 degrees
Fahrenheit this fall we had the cryopreserved milk shipped back to us
and we’ve started utilizing it in our brood stock production by thawing this
mill and fertilizing fish eggs with it in order to bring the wild genetics back
into our population since the pachi trout were so close to extinction the
gene pool is very limited it’s difficult to match fish that aren’t closely
related and integrating makes the fish more susceptible to diseases and to
ensure healthy genetic pairing they identify gene types and tag the fish
with something similar to the electronic tag that many people
get for their pets it’s something about the size of a longer end of rice and
that’s implanted under the skin the service has a sort of matchmaking
service for Apache trout in Dexter New Mexico
yeah the genetics lab at the Southwestern native aquatic resource and
Recovery Center their geneticist did a matrix for us we took 50 of our female 4
year olds pit tag ‘dom which is a passive integrated transponder tag that
has a 10 digit number just like a social security number and a fin clip and they
did genetic work to match males to females that were not related and some
of our fish but we are spawning this year for our brood stock replacement we
are utilizing this matrix which is mating a specific male to a specific
female that are the most unrelated that we have for the purpose of the greatest
genetic diversity to avoid inbreeding and breeding fish that are closely
related to each other while restoring a genetically robust Apache trout to its
original habitat is the long term goal of the service Russell wood agrees that
this fish is important for the local tribe and for anglers and the fish could
also become more popular with cooks and people who enjoy eating fish well I
think the biggest importance to the tribe is is people travel long distances
just to catch on a patchy trap because they’re only found here so it’s a
revenue for the tribe they have people from out of state or out of town travel
here spend money here to catch a fish they can only catch here I need to eat
one because I heard they’re delicious oh we stocked those fish into
christmas-tree Lake here on the reservation the tribe runs what’s called
trout camp which is like a luxury camping trip with nice tents catered
food home-cooked food and people pay money to spend a weekend fishing for
these large Apache trout in Christmas Tree Lake and get taken care of by
fishing guides and cut and Russell has some tips for
perspective Apache trout anglers as well I think you know catching out of patchy
trout’s gonna be like catching any trout and if you’re a fly fisherman and any of
the flies that we have here from bloomin olives a bait fisherman a good thing to
use is a white power bait use a small hook and very little weight and just let
it drift in the current and when you see the white power bait disappear it’s an
officious mouth and set the hook Bradley Clarkson is a supervisory fish
biologist at Williams Creek as both a US Fish and Wildlife Service employee and a
member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Bradley has a unique perspective
and the conservation of the trout he says that the Apache people are proud to
have this trout named for them I think the the patchy people in general on the
White Mountain pecchì they like that you know it represent them as an Apache
travel members out here and they’re the ones that are not protecting the land
and the resources and have an Apache Chop named after Apache general tribe
tribes not only right now but there are other Apache Apache tribes in Arizona as
well that brah I kind of think they contribute to that too for it did it to
be here and that we could at least we have 13 to 14 strains
Bradley says protecting the Apache trout goes back centuries into the time of
Geronimo who was a prominent leader of the Apache Chiricahua and delayed
European settlement of the region until his surrender in 1886 I think probably Iran will had something
to do with that as well she get people away even that’s what Mon
Apache when he was around we were afraid of him as well mm-hmm because my
grandmother mentioned one time that her mom said when Geronimo’s come and do
what wanted to higher up in the mountains do you fear him if we feared
him I’m pretty sure other folks feared him more because uh that’s follow I
believe he protected on my even the land awful resources as well because you know
it’s hard to tap into it when you know yeah the patches are near around
somewhere you don’t want to you know get too far in there so that’s how mad she
trout and they’re protected not only that but the tribe the White Mountain
Apache trapping as well they I think near when it was when an endangered
species that might have kind came around being we’re already up there along with
that and protect it and made it a wilderness area where you can’t even
take a slingshot past that boundary or let alone a fishing pole they’re ready
you get side it right away for the same Rangers when they come around here
you’ll hear my colleague public affairs specialist Craig Springer talking to
Bradley Clarkson that’s hard to say the word we know is cook is named for trout
it’s like almost a sentence if you don’t see an Apache this is a pesar Battaglia
around on Mount Baldy that’s what it I would say that’s it days army and sweat
moon so the diet means around it and there’s I know there’s fourteen
thirteen strains around it so that know what see it along with
cultural importance there’s also a measured return on investment in the
important conservation work that the service and the tribe do and working
together to restore the trap and economy-wise every dollar that’s put
into hatchery the nearby communities and the state they get nineteen dollars back
for Bradley a major aspect of this work is passing a torch to future generations
the future is looks good because right now as the staff here at win-streak
we finally got to where we go out and to try it give us permission to go in there
and collect while genetics bring it back and put it in our boost up we’re not
going to see it this year but maybe two or three years down the road because we
are finally getting our genetics put back into or spawning my supervisors
send me to Native American meetings with other tribes I I suggested to bring some
expertise to the hatchery and some training for you and the most important
one was prior preservation to this what we’re doing well maybe one of our Apache
travel members can learn to do in that field and they could pick it up from
where where we started to introduce it to hatchery education that’s my main
thing has that been trying to recruit a cheap travel members by going in and tap
into their high school and going to their instructors and biology teacher
and asked for who’s the best candidate who has the potential so that’s how I
get help by doing a look dude it’s to pick from because we won’t have so many
spots a week it we can interview them and get them ready find out who’s really
going into this fuel because I really like to see somewhat active traveling to
continue from where where I’m at right now
and be dedicated and have a passion for
Apache chop yeah doctoring while I’m still here 25
years later because I really like to continue to Apache Chop program and when
I’m done I like to say to the patch of people hey I’m done now your turn
this is as far as I can go now I got a good rest and baby bow fishing that was
supervisory fish biologist Bradley Clarkson at the Williams Creek National
Fish Hatchery on the Fort Apache reservation in the White Mountains
eastern Arizona with the US Fish and Wildlife Service southwest region I’m al
Barris and that’s what’s up you

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