Conserving Rare Native Fishes
IN THE UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN
Four rare native fishes, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and razorback sucker are either threatened or endangered and only live in the Colorado River basin.
Upper Colorado River Recovery Program Website
How the Programs Work
San Juan River Recovery Program Website
Water Projects Covered
Total Number of Fish Monitored
The Rare Native Fishes of the Upper Colorado River Basin
Downlisted from endangered to threatened in 2021, humpback chub ( Gila Cypha) is found in swift and turbulant waters in canyons of the Colorado River and some of its tributaries.
All Fish Illustrations (c) Joseph R Tomelleri
Bonytail (Gila elegans) is the rarest of the four fish and is listed as endangered. Bonytail are raised in hatcheries and then stocked in the Colorado river basin. There have been a few encounters with wild-spawned bonytail indicating recruitment.
Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius) is the largest minnow in North America. Historically this fish could reach a length of six feet and weigh eighty pounds. They were a food source for Colorado settlers in the 1800s. During that time, restaurants commonly referred to them as “white salmon” and would ask settlers to sell their catch to them.
Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) is one of the largest suckers in North America. The razorback sucker can grow to 3 feet in length and can live for more than 40 years. They reproduce at 3 to 4 years of age. Depending on water temperature, spawning can occur as early as November or as late as June. In the Upper Colorado River Basin razorback sucker typically spawn between mid-April and mid-June. Razorback sucker eat insects, plankton, and plant matter on the bottom of the river.
In the News
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Sam Brockdorff holds a native razorback sucker before tagging and releasing it into the Colorado River. Photo by Katie Creighton/DWR Native fish boomed around Moab this year, data suggest High water likely helped razorback...
The Palisade High School Hatchery Project
Volunteer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Stories From the Field
Zach Podomore, Salt Lake Tribune- A waterfall could soon form on the Colorado River as Lake Powell drops. A potential barrier to rafters, would a waterfall benefit endangered fish? An existing waterfall on the San Juan River provides some hints. Piute Farms Waterfall-...
Tildon Jones, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery ProgramFebruary, 2020 Over the last decade, floodplain wetlands have become an essential part of endangered species management. It has long been suspected that warm, food-rich floodplain wetlands were key to...
Biologists for Colorado Parks and Wildlife say two fishing tournaments are showing big rewards when it comes to helping control non-native fish in two important bodies of water. At Elkhead Reservoir east of Craig, anglers competed in the 2020 Elkhead Fishing Classic...
Endangered Fish Keep Water in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River
About 15 miles of the Colorado River, from the Town of Palisade to the Gunnison River confluence below Las Colonias Park, is particularly vulnerable to very low flows. Large amounts of water are withdrawn from the river above Palisade for agriculture and other Grand Valley uses. In dry times, the resulting low flows can stress rare native fish such as Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. For more than 20 years, cooperative efforts between Grand Valley water users, federal and non-federal water managers, and diverse river interests have successfully provided more water to this 15-Mile Reach when it is most needed, helping to keep the river flowing strong for people and for fish.
Water for Fish
810 cubic-feet per second (CFS*) of water in the main channel of the Colorado River is necessary to support the rare native fishes. When water is lower than that, Recovery Program partners release water into the main stem of the river to benefit wildlife. These releases keep water in the river which is especially important during times of drought.
Water for Communities
Rocky Mountain snowmelt runoff rejuvenates the Colorado River every spring. As runoff enters tributaries, the river fills and provides beneficial habitat for fish, invertebrates, and plants. Along the way, numerous water users have rights to divert natural river flow or temporarily store water in reservoirs for later beneficial use. This stored water is released downstream as needed. Water used by municipalities is diverted from the river into treatment facilities and purified for human consumption. Water used for agriculture is diverted by irrigation districts and individual farmers to meet their agricultural needs.
Water for Agriculture
Water provided by irrigators to farms in the Grand Valley support a $100+ million dollar agricultural industry. Grand Valley farmers supply fruits, vegetables and wine to the state of Colorado and beyond. A thriving agricultural community creates agritourism, which connects tourists to working farms and vineyards. Agritourism provides income to farms and the cities and towns where the farms are located. Agritourism draws travelers to agricultural themed events such as the Palisade Peach Festival, local Farmers Markets, Winefest and many other community events.
Water for Recreation
The Colorado River runs through communities and provides a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. The river supports outdoor recreational activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, tubing, rafting, hiking, wildlife-viewing, picnicking, and biking.
San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meeting
November 28-30, 2023 – 8:00am – 4:00pm San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meets. Please send an email to SJRIP@fws.gov to receive a Teams invite to participate.
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meeting
February 6-8, 2024 – 8:00am – 4:00pm – San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meets. Please send an email to SJRIP@fws.gov to recieve a Teams invite to participate
San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Annual Meeting
May 14, 2024 – 8:00am – 4:00pm San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meets.
May 15, 2024 – 8:00am – 12:00pm San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Biology Committee Meets. 12:00pm – 4:00pm San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Coordination Committee Meets. Please send an email to SJRIP@fws.gov to receive a Teams invite to participate.