Humpback Chub Species Recovering in Grand Canyon Waters

In a rare win for the environment and for conservation efforts as a whole, a federal proposal has been made to reclassify the humpback chub fish species from “endangered” to “threatened.”

According to Julie Carter of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “Not many species of native fish have been downlisted due to recovery efforts in Arizona, so it’s a really big success under the Endangered Species Act.” Carter also said that while downlisting the chub won’t change their current efforts to conserve and promote the native fish, it would allow more flexibility for managing the chub and reduce regulations associated with it.

The humpback chub has been making a comeback with its population now stabilized at around 12,000 fish. Officials are also noticing more of the chub appearing downstream from the Little Colorado River. Before 2007, surveyors would only catch 1 to 3 humpback chubs below Diamond Creek. Today, you can catch hundreds of chubs in the area.

Local tribes and college grad students alike have been helping further preserve the chub and other native fish species for years. Regulating the water to a warmer temperature may helped the chub’s population along with moving younger fish to safer habitats in the Little Colorado River.

There is still work to be done though. Warming the waters could also threaten the humpback chub since it could help invasive non-native fish gain a foothold into the Canyon’s waters. High flow releases from the Glen Canyon Dam have shown no noticeable effect on the chub’s population. There is still plenty to learn and plenty of experiments to try to improve the chub’s chances.

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That said, many are hopeful. Director of the agency’s Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Tom Chart, sees the downlisting of the humpback chub as a momentum for hope rather than a finished task.

“It really doesn’t lessen the concern Fish and Wildlife has with this species in my mind,” said Chart. “It just might convey to our stakeholders that we are on the right track here.”

Time will tell if the current methods will help continue the humpback chub to thrive or if other measures can prove to be more effective.