- Associated Press - Saturday, July 22, 2017

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - A fish that federal officials say was once widely known as the “salmon of the southwest” is showing signs of recovering its diminished population in the San Juan River basin.

Scientists said they have found evidence the Colorado pikeminnow is reproducing in the San Juan River, and the offspring are surviving.

This conclusion is based on data gathered last year following the spring peak release from Navajo Dam, the Farmington Daily Times (https://bit.ly/2tzGbHu ) reported Monday.

Scientists found more Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River than in previous years, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Services. They also found 23 yearling fish. Before last year, only one juvenile fish had been caught by scientists since work began in the 1990s to restore habitat.

“Hopefully (the finding) represents important progress along the road to species recovery,” Tom Wesche, a University of Wyoming professor emeritus and a member of the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program’s biology committee, said in a release.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Services said more than 540 Colorado pikeminnow were counted in the San Juan River last year.

The Colorado pikeminnow lives in three river basins: The San Juan River basin, the Colorado River basin and the Green River basin. Both the Colorado and Green river basins have populations of Colorado pikeminnow that are reproducing and surviving to adulthood.

The Colorado pikeminnow’s decline in the San Juan River basin was likely caused by human development along the river, including dams, diversions and depletion of water for agricultural uses, said Sharon Whitmore, the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program coordinator.

The Colorado pikeminnow is the largest minnow in North America and can be up to 6 feet (1.83 meters) long, Whitmore said.

Finding the juvenile fish was a step toward reaching San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program’s goal, which is eventually getting the Colorado pikeminnow removed from the federal endangered species list, Whitmore said. Among the criteria that must be met before the fish can be delisted are that there must be more than 800 adult Colorado pikeminnow and more than 1,000 juveniles in the San Juan River basin.

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