Tribes Want to Add Netting to Reduce Lake Trout

By Beacon Staff

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes want to add aggressive netting to an effort to reduce the number of nonnative lake trout in Flathead Lake.

The state and tribal co-management plan for the lake expires at the end of next year, said Clayton Matt, head of the tribal natural resources department.

He said the tribe’s fisheries program staff prepared a draft memorandum of understanding as a way to start discussions on the next 10-year plan.

Suppressing lake trout is intended to benefit native bull trout.

The tribe said the current management plan did not meet its goals in reducing the number of lake trout by 60,000 per year by 2008.

“This target was not met, providing evidence that agency action in addition to fishing contests would likely be necessary to achieve the goal of the plan,” the draft memorandum states.

The current plan sought to meet the goals through increasing fishing limits, but anglers catch an estimated 50,000 trout each year.

The tribe proposes a pilot project calling for the harvest of 60,000 fish by expanding the Mack Days fishing tournament and setting 200 gill nets on the lake. The proposed target for 2011 is 80,000 fish and the target for 2012 is 100,000 fish by setting an estimated 1,000 300-foot-long gill nets.

Gill netting would be controversial among lake trout anglers and business interests around the lake.

“We did not participate in the development of those documents,” said Jim Satterfield, regional supervisor for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

While the tribes’ emphasis is on recovering native species such as bull trout, FWP has a dual mission of conservation as well as providing fishing opportunities. Lake trout are the lake’s main sport fishery.

Before a netting proposal could be adopted, FWP said it would have to undergo a full environmental impact statement and public review.

“This would be a huge impact on the lake,” said Bob Orsua, owner of Mo Fisch fishing charters on Flathead Lake. He added that the impacts of increasing lake trout harvest may not be foreseeable and it’s uncertain if it would help bull trout.

Orsua believes the increased angling pressure has already had an impact on the lake trout population.

“I’ve gone from 13 fish per charter down to 2.3 fish per charter over the last five years,” Orsua said. “There are fewer fish to catch.”

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