USFWS recommends delisting Apache Trout

After half a century of federal protection, a unique trout species is being considered for removal from the Endangered Species List. Native only to the high country of northern Arizona, the Apache trout is a firm, olive-colored salmonid with a bright yellow belly. Lives exclusively in streams around the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona. While the small streams that these rare fish typically inhabit allow them to grow to about 10 inches in length, they can reach sizes of 20 inches or more under the right conditions.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is recommending the removal of the Apache trout from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency’s proposal comes at the end of a five-year review process involving the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Arizona Game and Fish (AZGF), the federal government and the Arizona Chapter of Trout Unlimited (AZTU).

The USFWS recommends removing the Arizona Apache Trout from the endangered species list
Under the right conditions, Apache trout can reach 20 inches in length. Gjergj Anrejko. AZGF

“We would like to thank our partners for their commitment and collaborative efforts with the Service toward the recovery of the Apache trout,” said Amy Lueders, Regional Director for the USFWS, in a press release. “We are excited to say that recovery actions by the White Mountain Apache Tribe and other partners have led to the recommendation to remove the species from the ESA.”

The USFWS says the recovery effort included removing non-native trout, building fish barriers and reintroducing hatchery-raised Apache trout to their historic native habitat. Apache trout are one of only two species of trout native to the Grand Canyon State—the other being the closely related Gila trout. In fact, for many years, North American scientists did not fully understand the taxonomic differences between Gila and Apache trout. “It was originally considered the same species as the Gila trout, which was listed under the Endangered Species Protection Act in 1967,” the USFWS explained. “Apache Trout [were] it was first described as a unique species separate from the Gila trout in 1972. A year later, it gained protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and was subsequently reduced to the threatened list in 1975.

The USFWS recommends removing the Arizona Apache Trout from the endangered species list
Apache trout live only in streams around the White Mountain area of ​​northeastern Arizona. George Anrejko / AZGF

Restoring Apache trout to sustainable levels has been a goal of the federal government since at least 1979, but indigenous tribes in the area have been working to restore valuable native fisheries even longer, says the Arizona Chapter of Trout Unlimited AZTU. Field & Stream. According to AZTU chapter president Alan Davis, the White Mountain Apache tribe has been trying to restore the fish since the mid-1950s. He says overharvesting of Apache yellow-bellied trout by European settlers around the turn of the century played a role. major in the decline of native fish. “Back then, the fishing for these trout was just incredible,” Davis told F&S. “Like most of the overfishing that happened at the time, there would literally be strings of fish between the trees.”

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The USFWS says one obstacle to the success of Arizona’s Apache trout has been the introduction of non-native game fish species. “The gene pool was threatened by hybridization with rainbow trout and non-native cutthroat trout,” the USFWS wrote in its press release. “Additionally, non-native brook and brown trout pose a threat through competition and predation.” To correct this problem, the USFWS and AZGFD have focused on removing these species from the native Apache trout range, a move AZTU says it supports despite blowbacks from anglers who want to fish for non-natives.

The USFWS recommends removing the Arizona Apache Trout from the endangered species list
Apache trout were long considered the same species as the closely related Gila trout. Gjergj Anrejko. AZGF

The next step for the USFWS in officially removing the Apache trout from the long list of species protected under the ESA will be to publish a proposed rule in the federal register. The move will prompt a 60-day comment period seeking input from members of the public, as well as state, federal, tribal and other governmental entities. To follow the process, you can use the USFWS Online Conservation System.

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