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Rainbow trout restoration spawns national interest

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A news crew from CBS This Morning spent nearly two days last week documenting the local fishing industry and highlighting efforts to restore native rainbow trout in the Black Canyon. Their piece is set to air later this month.

Each year anglers from around the globe come to wrap their fingers around a brilliant rainbow trout from the cool, gentle flow of the Gunnison River.

To preserve the trout's ecosystem and keep the Gold Medal fishing waters of the river a destination, biologists and researchers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) have been combating the devastating whirling disease, a fatal illness so severe that rainbow trout can no longer reproduce in significant numbers on their own.

Now, they believe they may have turned a corner in that fight. The CBS News crew, featuring veteran on-air journalist Barry Petersen, observed a Colorado Parks and Wildlife team catching and milking rainbow trout in the Black Canyon on May 8. The team arrived Monday and spent two days meeting local anglers, commercial guides and outfitters.

Whirling disease is carried by a parasite, and is non-native as is their host, the rainbow trout. The fish was introduced during the 19th-century mining boom by settlers as a food source; the parasite's journey began in Europe and wasn't detected in Colorado until the 1990s.

Researchers found a small group of fish in the Black Canyon that had built a natural resistance to the disease. This immunity led to genetic testing where biologists could then breed more rainbow trout for stocking. This work pays dividends through local fishing tourism.

Each year Colorado Parks and Wildlife spends millions to preserve fish habitats for the state's multi-billion-dollar fishing industry. The CPW team captures spawning wild female rainbow trout, safely removes their eggs and fertilizes them with male rainbow trout. Those eggs are then taken to area hatcheries to be grown and stocked in other rivers in the state. By using hatcheries, the fish can be raised in water that is free of diseases like whirling.

By rebuilding this population, biologists hope the rainbow trout can reproduce naturally with immunity from the whirling disease.

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Black Canyon, Fishing
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