Study: Underwater blast had no permanent effect on fish populations

QCS staff

Walleye populations at Ute Lake are growing and an underwater blast that was part of the installation of an intake structure of the Ute pipeline project on Aug. 16 had no permanent effect on the lake’s fish populations.

These are two conclusions that the New Mexico Game and Fish Department drew after conducting a study on the lake last week.

The study demonstrated that the department’s program of stocking walleye fingerlings into the lake on an annual basis since 2009 has been successful, according to Eric Frye, sport fish program manager for Game and Fish.

Frye based his conclusions on counts of fish trapped in gill nets over a period of three days and evenings on Ute Lake. He said that 25 to 30 nets were cast into the water on each day, and fish were counted each time the nets were hauled in. Numbers of all fish species, he said, were sufficient to indicate no effect on population even after the underwater blast in August that apparently killed hundreds of fish.

The walleye populations have been increasing every year, from four walleye snared in the nets per gill-net cast to seven per net this year.

Walleye populations seem to have increased at Conchas Lake, as well, Frye said. Average nettings are bringing in 5.5 fish per haul, he said, up from about four per netting in 2009.

The highest population of walleye has been at Caballo Lake, south of Elephant Butte Lake in Sierra County. There, Frye said, the catch rate from gill netting has been 11 per haul.

Frye said that Game and Fish has been harvesting eggs from walleye every year, fertilizing them, then taking them to the fish hatchery in Santa Rosa, where the spawn are raised to fingerling size. Then, he said, the fish are carried back to the lake to replenish populations.

Before 2009, he said, Game and Fish alternated between Conchas and Ute lakes and determined that populations were decreasing in the lake that was not stocked. Based on those finding, he said, Game and Fish decided to restock both lakes every year.

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