State environmental officials plan to monitor some sport fish along the Missouri River despite closing Iowa’s only monitoring station on the river earlier this month.
Iowa fisheries staff will work with scientists from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and University of Nebraska-Lincoln to monitor paddlefish and catfish over time.
Chris Larson, a Department of Natural Resources fish management supervisor based in western Iowa, said there has been a recent influx of blue catfish north of Omaha and scientists want to know why they’re thriving.
“We want to continue to monitor those populations to see if they stay, if their numbers stay up above Omaha or do they go back down and decrease,” Larson said, “and can we tie that to some kind of river operation or habitat changes on the river.”
Larson said blue catfish populations in the Omaha to Sioux City stretch of the river have dwindled over the last couple of decades. But now, anglers are catching them.
It’s unclear how big a role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s shallow water habitat projects or higher river flows like the 2011 flood may have played in helping the species. Scientists detected a few blue catfish after the flood, and they seem to have remained in the area long enough for their population to increase, Larson said.
“And why that is is the question nobody seems to have a firm answer on,” he said.
The state received federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for shallow water habitat work from 2006 to 2016. Those projects have stopped, federal funding went away, and the state saw a need to move staff on the river to areas of higher urgency.
All of those factors led the state to close its Missouri River monitoring station in October.
But Larson said they’ll be able to monitor the fish without a dedicated station.
The two state environmental agencies were thinking about a partnership before the station closed, but the closure shed light on a need to combine resources to better understand fish population trends, he said.
Scientists from both states will monitor different segments of the river and communicate what they see to figure out what the data tells them about catfish populations.
“It’s a large and long river," Larson said. "It's difficult for any one team to cover that length of river."
Larson said they’ll monitor these populations “into the foreseeable future” or until they see federal funding return for habitat projects.