The "No Fishing" signs at the Lee Kay Hatchery have finally been backed up with fencing and netting around the open-air ponds holding the future of Utah’s tiger muskie program.
For several weeks this past summer an angler, or anglers, depleted the number of brood stock muskie and northern pike in the warm water ponds in Salt Lake County.
The mature muskie and pike are important because they were being used as part of Utah’s efforts to produce their own tiger muskie — a sterile hybrid between the two species.
The size — the state record is 33 pounds, 9 ounces and 49 inches long — and predatory nature of the toothy fish has created a surge of interest among Utah anglers.
Providing the nonnative fish for Utah waters can prove difficult due to disease issues from sources in the Midwest and costly.
The ponds on the grounds at the Lee Kay Center for Hunter Education were created to serve as a home for the adult fish in hopes biologists could obtain eggs and milt to create the sterile tiger muskies.
Sterile fish — those that cannot produce offspring — are used by biologists because they can easily be controlled by fishing regulations and stockings.
State fisheries officials were not sure what was happening to the fish until a phone caller inquired if what he was doing was legal.
"He said the fishing is fantastic and then I told him it was illegal," Drew Cushing, warm-water fish coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) said in July. "I explained to him the impact. He was pretty open about it and said he felt bad. He was probably one of the honest folks. There were most likely others out there. I assume he ate them."
As it turned out, the fishing was not illegal because there were no signs indicating the ponds were closed.
No citations were issued, but efforts to protect the remaining fish — just three male and one female mature muskie and 30 northern pike — began.
On Jan. 6, state fisheries biologists and angler advocacy groups gathered for an "official" opening of the Lee Kay Fish Hatchery.
"They now have a hatching building, raceway/holding areas, fencing, signage and bird netting," said George Somme with the Utah Bass Federation. "There are now two ponds covered with plans to rebuild and cover the other two ponds. The netting is expected to last eight to ten years and was a necessity as there was a huge bird predation problem."
The state is working to secure more true muskie for the program and hopes to eventually be able to produce its own 50,000 tiger muskies annually.
"I am extremely pleased with what they have done," Sommer said. "It looks like a real facility and has some dedicated personnel who will move the program forward."
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