ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — There are thousands of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout now swimming in the upper reaches of the river in northern New Mexico.
A crew of volunteers and staffers with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department on Monday made the arduous trek into the Rio Grande Gorge north of Taos with backpacks and containers filled with water and trout fingerlings.
They stocked almost 10,000 young trout into the river as part of a long-range plan to spur interest in the state fish and restore it in other streams and creeks. Like other native fish, the Rio Grande cutthroat has disappeared from much of its historic range in New Mexico and Colorado.
The department began restocking the fish in the Rio Grande in 2008. Today, people can fish for cutthroat that have grown to adulthood in the gorge and are now as large as 12 inches.
Jason Blakney, coldwater fisheries biologist for the department, said anglers are the ones who make the conservation program possible through volunteering and by funding it through license fees and excise taxes on fishing equipment, rods and boat fuel.
“Sportsmen have invested in this program and make it possible to have a wild population of Rio Grande cutthroat trout in a large river system,” Blakney said.
Known for the red slash marks below its jaw and its large irregular spots, the Rio Grande cutthroat was the first North American trout to be recorded by Spanish explorers centuries ago.
Over the last century, the fish has struggled to keep pace with its nonnative competitors and has seen its habitat disappear due to pressures on the arid region’s water resources, logging, grazing and other threats.
The fish is a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The trout released Monday were raised at Seven Springs Hatchery. To keep the cutthroat’s genetic strain pure, those are the only species raised there.