May 11, 2005

Endangered Gila Chub Fish Return Home

PHOENIX (AP) -- Hundreds of endangered Gila chub fish evacuated from Sabino Creek in the wake of a fire that sent erosion and ash into the water were taken home Tuesday.

Using nets and an electric-shock device, biologists and volunteers scooped out nearly 1,000 Gila chub from the creek in July 2003 because they were worried the fish could be wiped out by ash and debris. Since then, they've been living and breeding in captivity.

But on Tuesday, 550 of the fish were redeposited into three canyons in the Santa Catalina Mountains, said Don Mitchell, fisheries program manager at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The majority - about 340 - were returned to Sabino Canyon. Another 120 went into Romero Canyon and the remaining 90 went into Bear Canyon.

Getting the fish out of Sabino Creek was easier than getting them back in. It took an eight-person team an hour to hike into Romero Canyon carrying buckets of fish in backpacks.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department packed chub - ranging in size from 1 to 10 inches - in coolers and strapped them to mules for a three-mile hike into Bear Canyon. Roads into Sabino Canyon made it easier to access that area.

Mitchell said about 440 fish remain in at a state hatchery as a reserve.

"We're still holding some back to make sure what we did today was a success ... that they don't succumb to ash or debris during the rainy season," he said.

"The rainy season following the fire moved most of the ash out and the winter rains this year have really cleaned the canyon up," he said. "So we're hopeful."

The wildfire that threatened the chubs began June 17, 2003, and torched nearly 85,000 acres along the Santa Catalina Mountains including the small mountaintop enclave of Summerhaven, which is about 45 minutes northeast of Tucson.

Mitchell said late summer rains carrying fire debris could have suffocated the minnow-like fish, which has been proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The University of Arizona received about 200 of the evacuated Gila chub. Another 200 were taken to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and 600 went to a state hatchery near Sedona to breed.


On the Net:

Arizona Game and Fish Department: http://www.gf.state.az.us/