Beneath multi-million-dollar water settlements with Navajo and Ute nations and others in the Colorado River system is a mandate for the well-being of an endangered fish once treasured by Native Americans. It is the Colorado pikeminnow, formerly known by the derogatory name “Colorado squawfish.”
The pikeminnow, formerly up to 6 feet in length and 80 pounds in weight, joins the razorback sucker and humpback and bonytail chubs in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, conducted under a partnership of local, state and federal agencies and other interests.
“Tribal members reportedly speared the fish with pitchforks, shot them with bows and arrows, or simply collected them from the river during low flows,” the Recovery Program notes. It also explains that Colorado pikeminnow bones have been found at a Pueblo Indian site in Arizona and in areas associated with the Hohokam civilization.
“You can see how you cut steaks off that thing,” a non-Native settler is quoted as saying. “I remember a fish like that really was a harvest, and it produced not just one meal, but quite a few meals for the family.”
The pikeminnow, the largest minnow in North America, was called the “white salmon” by early settlers because of its flavor and long-distance spawning migrations of more than 200 miles.
The fish, evolved some 3 million years ago, was known to take anglers’ bait “in the form of mice, birds, and even small rabbits, despite that its only ‘teeth’ are found on a bony, circular structure located deep within its throat,” according to the Recovery Program.
The program provides Endangered Species Act compliance for the continued operation of federal water and power projects.