GREEN RIVER, Wyo. — Burbot taste like lobster, look like a cross between a catfish and an eel, and are rapidly spreading through the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwest Wyoming, fish managers say.
The non-native squatters are also getting pretty darn big.
The illegally introduced fish are posing a major risk to native fish up and down the Green River drainage, and fish biologists have been monitoring their size and spread for several years.
Biologists with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently completed their fifth annual fall burbot-netting operation on the Flaming Gorge and Fontenelle reservoirs in Sweetwater County.
“The burbot population has absolutely exploded in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir,” said Green River fisheries biologist Craig Amadio.
“They are now widely distributed, extremely abundant and naturally reproducing in the reservoir,” Amadio said in a media release Friday.
He said it also appears that burbot are “taking off” in Fontenelle Reservoir to the north as well. Burbot abundance in the reservoir has increased substantially in recent years.
Burbot, also known as ling or dogfish, belong to the freshwater cod family.
The fish has long dorsal and anal fins and sports a distinct, single barbel on its chin.
The burbot is a winter spawner that likes medium to large streams and deep, cold lakes like the 91-mile-long Flaming Gorge.
Burbot are similar in size to walleye, typically ranging from 1 to 4 pounds.
But Green River regional spokeswoman Lucy Wold used one word to describe some of the burbot caught this week — “huge.”
Burbot ranging from 12 inches to a whopping 39 inches were netted during capture operations.
Wold said 58 burbot were sampled at a catch rate of one fish per hour. The catch had an average weight of 2.53 pounds.
The annual fall burbot netting began in 2006 in response to the growing sightings of the non-native species into the Green River drainage.
Amadio speculated the eel-like, predatory fish was most likely introduced into the watershed in the late 1990s by a few “selfish individuals” looking to stock their favorite fish.
Burbot were first found in the Big Sandy River during 2001.
As the species began spreading downstream, they were later discovered in the Green River in 2003, Fontenelle Reservoir in 2005 and Flaming Gorge in 2006.
“The discovery in Fontenelle was another blow to the system,” Amadio said.
“This marked the first time burbot were found upstream of Fontenelle Dam and likely resulted from a second illegal introduction,” he said.
He said the arrival of burbot has dealt a serious blow to efforts by the agency to maintain quality regional fisheries for all anglers.
“These illegal introductions will have long-term consequences for the watershed's fisheries,” said Amadio. “And make no mistake, burbot are the result of an illegal introduction.”
Biologist Anna Senecal noted that in 2006 when the fall burbot netting began, just 15 burbot were sampled. Fish lengths ranged from 15 to 23 inches.
In 2008, 52 burbot were netted and the fish lengths grew to 13 to 31 inches.
Senecal said angler pressure continues to be the agency's best tool for the management of burbot and the maintenance of the fishery.
In an effort to help, the Green River and Rock Springs chambers of commerce held the second annual “Burbot Bash” in January on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Anglers were encouraged to catch as many burbot as they could and remove them from the lake.
Contact Jeff Gearino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-875-5359.