You could get paid to fish for an invasive species in the Grand Canyon. Here's how

Debra Utacia Krol
The Republic |
The National Park Service is planning to pay people to catch an invasive brown trout in the Grand Canyon.

Invasive fish species have long been a challenge for scientists in the Grand Canyon because they attract fishermen but can devour threatened native species.

Now, the National Park Service is ready to try a new approach to keeping things in balance: pay fishermen and women to harvest one of the worst offenders, the brown trout.

These invaders like to eat other fish, including the Canyon's endangered native species, the humpback chub.

Anglers already have to have a fishing license, and many simply fish for sport, using the "catch and release" practice as they pursue the non-native trout species in the upper reaches of the Canyon. 

The new Park Service plan would have them catch the fish and remove them — and pay for the effort. 

Also, according to a statement released by the Park Service, tribal youth from the 11 tribes with cultural and historic ties to the Grand Canyon will be offered guided fishing trips to Lees Ferry Reach, where the incentives will be offered.

The government has already been working on a program to control the non-native fish, aquatic plants and invertebrates such as quagga mussels that can be found at Grand Canyon National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The brown trout rated the most immediate concern, leading to the new trout bounty. 

Park Service officials worked with stakeholders ranging from tribal, federal and state governments, scientists and environmentalists to members of fishing groups Trout Unlimited and the International Federation of Fly Fishers to put the program together.

Now, seemingly, there's just one big question about the program: How much money people win for trout, and how they'll get it. Those details are still being worked out, the Park Service says. 

How trout got into the Canyon in the first place

Brown trout aren’t native to the Colorado River. They were introduced back in the 1920s and early 1930s from Germany. Their cousins, the rainbow trout, were first stocked in the river below Glen Canyon Dam in 1964.

The salmonids quickly took to the clear, cold water below the dam. The native chub stays downstream, where the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers recreate the warmer water that provides optimal conditions for the species.

Although Lees Ferry Reach is acclaimed as a world-class rainbow trout fishery, the bigger brown trout have been increasing in numbers.

Their size is part of the problem. Because brown trout are bigger — and more voracious — they pose a bigger threat to the endangered chub if their population continues to expand. 

Rob Billerbeck, Colorado River coordinator in the park service’s regional resource stewardship and science office, says that just one brown trout, which can grow up to 24 inches long, can consume up to 17 times more humpback chub than a rainbow trout.

Billerbeck says that scientists and park managers feared the brown trout would soon make short work of the native fish.

"We're not sure why they came up the river," Billerbeck said. "But we're worried that they may go back down the river where the chub are. So we know we need to reduce their numbers."

This is not the first time officials have tried to control the brown trout. 

Park Service workers have dealt with the invasion using a technique known as electrofishing, where an electrical charge is used to stun fish. The unwanted brown trout were removed, and the other fish were put back in the water. 

But that effort had its own problems. 

Tribes, anglers oppose electrofishing

The technique, normally used for surveying fish populations, came under fire from several tribes, particularly the Zuni Tribe.

“Removal of the brown trout by electroshock is against Zuni beliefs,” said Zuni Tribal Councilman Eric Bobelu. “The taking of life by mechanical means is not a good thing.” However, the tribe agreed that removing the trout by fishing for them was preferable.

Bobelu said Zuni youth have participated in surveying and fishing for brown trout.

“Other tribes in the management program planning backed us up and were concerned that our beliefs were respected,” he said. 

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John Hammill of Trout Unlimited says his group was also concerned about electrofishing. “There are still many more rainbow trout than brown trout in the fishery,” he said. “There is a lot of collateral damage to the rainbows.” So, Trout Unlimited also asked for an alternative. “It’s an opportunity to engage local communities and include them as part of the solution,” Hammill said. “It could also help prop up the economy in the area.”

“It’s a creative idea,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “I think the idea of rewards to fisherfolk seems reasonable.”

Billerbeck added that, “It’s a great day when you can get paid to fish, and we are excited about involving the public in removing non-natives to protect our parks.”

Park Service officials hope the incentivized fishing will be enough to get the brown trout numbers under control without having to resort to mechanical removal, Billberbeck said. 

Details of the incentive program are being worked out, but existing rules would still apply. A valid Arizona fishing license is required to fish in any publicly accessible waters, including federal waters. Visit for information on purchasing a fishing license.

Reach the reporter at or at 602-444-8490. Follow her on Twitter at @debkrol. 

Environmental coverage on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at and at OurGrandAZ on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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