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Otter reintroduction causing some to worry about trout

April 2, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Surveys show the lower Red River has healthy fish populations after the reintroduction of otters, contrary to concerns from trout advocates, a New Mexico wildlife official said.

River otters were reintroduced in New Mexico more than a dozen years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday.

Renowned state fly-fishing guide Taylor Streit initially supported the reintroduction, but now he said he isn’t sure it was a good idea.

The otters are decimating trout on the lower Red River, he said.

“The lower Red River is our winter go-to spot, but we are not going there because no one is catching the fish,” Streit said. “We have to go to Abiquiu.”

Toner Mitchell with Trout Unlimited, the cold-water fish conservation organization, agrees that the otters are becoming an issue.

Typically, Mitchell sees between 50 and 100 obvious spawning nests on the lower Red from November through February, but the last time he passed by, Mitchell said, he only saw one.

“Down in the gorge (below the hatchery), we are not getting as many or as large fish as we are used to,” said Mitchell, who serves as the organization’s water and habitat program manager and public lands coordinator in New Mexico.

The New Mexico Department of Game of Fish has heard concerns over the otters since 2014, said Eric Frey, the department’s sport fish program manager.

Surveys conducted in 2015 and 2016 near a rainbow trout-producing Red River State Fish Hatchery have shown that there are various healthy fish populations in the river, he said.

Thirty-three otters were brought to the upper Rio Grande between 2008 and 2010. Those otters are protected by laws that prohibit them from being hunted or trapped.

Today, the otters are reportedly thriving, but no one is sure by how much their population has grown.

“It is very hard to tell how many because the individual animals move around a lot,” said Jim Stuart, non-game mammal specialist for the Department of Game and Fish.

Frey did concede that there is a possibility that the otter population has done so well since the last survey, that it could be affecting the fish, but he said he didn’t think it was the case.

“There are no absolutes in wildlife management,” Frey said. “But in all surveys of Western rivers where otters are present — the upper Colorado, the upper Green River in Wyoming, the Yellowstone River in Montana — there have been healthy trout populations.”

The fish and game department plans to conduct another survey in September, Frey said.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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