Threat to a Sport Fishery
You’ve been reading about the Confederated Salish and
Kootenai Tribe saying that lake trout are exploding and bull trout are almost
extinct and therefore they need to net lake trout. I think just the opposite is
Redd counts are the number of spawning beds made by the adult
bull trout in the tributaries in the Flathead River
drainage. These counts are done by the FWP fish biologists, which began in
1979. Current counts state that the bull trout population is stable. Stable
means that the bull trout are not on the brink of extinction. You hear
there are only 3000 adult bull trout in
Flathead Lake. If you count all age classes
of bull trout there are between 50,000 to 130,000 bull trout in the system. A
mid-term review of the Flathead Co management Plan said lake trout and bull
trout populations are stable/stable. Those aren’t the facts you’ve been reading
about, are they?
If you have 1000
anglers participating in Mack Days and the entries keep growing it just proves
that there is a large demand and interest in fishing and the extra dollar value
put on the lake trout only drives up the popularity. Mack Days is targeting the prime seasons to catch these fish in spring, post spawn, and
the fall, pre spawn. At this time of the year the fish are congregated in
smaller areas and allowing for a higher success rate. You hear about big catches but the average fishermen are catching 5 to 10 fish per day or less. There are a
select few dedicated fishermen that spend 14 hours a day on the water, more
time spent equals, hopefully, more fish in the boat. Besides the dollar value
there is some bragging rights that drive some folks, and fishing is fun. Just
the chance to catch a $100 fish is reason enough for some. The tribe does a
great job in rewarding these fishermen and the award ceremony is a fun time for all. However, the successful fishermen now have to
fish 250’deep or deeper to catch little lake trout. Average fishermen are
having a hard time catching lake trout in shallower water like usual. Charter
captains like me fish for a living. I fish more than 200 days a year on Flathead Lake. Our catches have dropped from 15
fish per day to 3 ½ fish per day over the last 15 years, an 80% drop.
There is no evidence that taking out 150,000 lake trout a
year as they propose will help the native species. The biologists have also
said that the 200 year models might show some increase in native fish!
In fact, they have also said that there might be less native fish after
removing that many lake trout. There is no example to show that this effort has
been successful in any other body of water, nowhere! The biologists cannot
answer the question, what is enough, or, what is too much? I think Mack days
have reduced lake trout numbers. The lake trout and the native fish have
co-existed in the Flathead
Lake drainage for over
100 years and the fish are stable/stable. Is the risk of possibly crashing a
sport fishery worth the unknown gain? I say no! We all acknowledge that the
mysis shrimp have changed everything in the lake. The introduction of the mysis
was supposed to be a good thing for the non-native Kokanee salmon but it
crashed them. The lack of knowledge of reducing the lake trout might have the same
results. This decision must be decided by good science, not wishful thinking.
Tom McDonald from the tribe is quoted saying “the lake
trout population is leveled out, but we are not seeing any response in the bull
trout”. I disagree; we are not seeing a decline in the bull trout population, they
are stable. The biologists do not know if there will ever be a positive
response in the bull trout even if they were able to remove all the lake trout.
In fact they have been quoted to say there might be fewer native species.
Many questions are unanswered; the lake trout are keeping
the shrimp population in check, what will happen to the water quality if we
create such an imbalance of the fish populations that the shrimp numbers increase?
If they gill net the lake, how many Lake superior whitefish will also be
killed, how many bull trout will be taken in the gill nets, how many other
species of fish will be affected by the shifting of balance? So far, Mother
Nature has kept the population of all the fish species in check, but netting
could upset that. I like bull trout and want to see them around. But, at best
this plan might only grow a few more bull trout and we still won’t be able to
fish for them. If the lake trout are gone from Flathead Lake
there will be no sport fishery left in our jewel of a lake that we present to
the millions of visitors that come here annually, not to mention the enjoyment
of us that live here. And every business around Flathead Lake
FWP withdrew its
support of the environmental review process because they see the need to do a
complete EIS, better science, complete
transparency, and public scoping. The tribe wants to just go ahead and kill
150,000 lake trout a year for the next 5 years and then study the results. The
tribe has applied for 3.5 million dollars from BPA for the next 3 years to
continue this experiment on the taxpayer’s dollar, from our power bills.
Is this the bridge to nowhere?
Mo Fisch Charters