BLM fish habitat surveys are making a difference in Lake Havasu

Story by Rod Crum, public affairs specialist. Photos by Christina Sanders, fisheries biologist.

The BLM Arizona Colorado River District has played a key role in the Lake Havasu Fisheries Improvement Partnership since its inception in 1992. The partnership, which is a successful and nationally recognized cooperative program, improves both artificial and natural habitats to enhance fishing opportunities. Between 1992 and 2004, the partnership improved approximately 875 overall lake acres within 42 coves or cove complexes. The artificial structures improve angling by concentrating fish in one area and providing refugia for young fish. 

an underwater scene with fish swimming in front of an algae-covered structure
Young fish occupying a structure that was placed by the Lake Havasu Fisheries Improvement Partnership in the early 1990s

Prior to the formation of the partnership, fisheries management activities for Lake Havasu were relatively passive through the middle of the twentieth century and there were low catch rates for anglers. The implementation of fishery improvements has resulted in Lake Havasu becoming a top-rated fishing lake that hosts multiple tournaments annually.

To monitor these historical improvements and develop a plan to replace the degraded structures with new ones, BLM Arizona Lake Havasu Field Office staff and partners from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) office in Yuma, Arizona jump in and get their own fins wet for the betterment of fish. Over time, wave action and UV penetration had begun to break down the artificial structures.

Two SCUBA divers
Lake Havasu BLM employees conducting SCUBA surveys on artificial and natural habitats within Lake Havasu

SCUBA surveys have been completed since the beginning of the partnership by the Bureau of Reclamation, AGFD, and BLM. SCUBA monitoring includes conducting visual surveys to identify coves with degraded or collapsing habitats as well as deploying underwater cameras on different types of structures to determine which types produce the most desired results. In recent years, novel habitat improvements have been installed and are being studied to inform future management decisions.