By Wes Johnson
Chairman, Trout Unlimited Utah Chapter
(Published April, 2002, Utah Outdoors magazine)
There have been a lot of questions recently as to what the Blue Ribbon Fishery Initiative is, including which waters are being selected, where the funding is coming from and how the program will benefit the anglers of Utah.
It actually all began two summers ago when I was asked to take Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt fishing. It's amazing what you can discuss when you have the governor as a captive audience for a day. During our discussions we talked about quality fisheries and angling experiences. When he asked me what I felt we needed to do to improve our fisheries, I noted that I had been working on a "white paper" on that particular subject and I would send him a summary of my thoughts and findings.
As a result of that trip, the Blue Ribbon Fishery Advisory Council was formed. The council is composed of volunteer anglers from all over the state who are concerned about the future of angling in Utah. For nearly a year now we have been addressing numerous issues such as funding, water quality and quantity, law enforcement, fishery and aquatic habitat personnel, habitat restoration and special management.
At the beginning, the council noted that there was a significant lack of funding for personnel and the program. We also noted that the angling license fees were reduced by nearly $2 in the late '90s. The council recommended an increase in license fees of $2, which will go into effect at the start of 2003. One dollar will be dedicated to a blue ribbon fisheries non-lapsing account. These funds will be used for acquiring angler access, aquatic/riparian habitat improvements, education, and instream flows or conservation pools. The council will have totally oversee where these dollars will be spent.
The Division of Wildlife Resources is currently under-staffed in the fishery and/or aquatic habitat sections by two or three people per region. These are positions that have not been filled for a number of years. We recommended that $1 of the license fee increase be dedicated to hiring new aquatic and fishery personnel.
You cannot have a quality fishery without good water quality. The Division of Water Quality gave us a briefing on their views of this issue. We found out that only one stream in Utah is protected from degradation under current water quality standards. This, we believe, is appalling. We propose to have all blue ribbon fisheries be protected from degradation, and the division has agreed to work with us on this critical issue.
You cannot have quality fisheries if they are poached or the water is degraded. We propose protecting these waters through stiff fines for poaching and pollution. Details will be worked out with wildlife resources and water quality division personnel.
You can find our mission statement, a map of selected blue ribbon fisheries and meeting notices at this web site, www.wildlife.ut.gov/blueribbon.htm. Our meetings are open to the public and should be listed on the DWR web site along with minutes of previous meetings.