Public Meetings for Flathead Lake Trout Netting Proposal

By Beacon Staff

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be holding three public meetings around the region, April 12-14 to provide information and gather comments for an upcoming environmental review to address ways to reduce lake trout predation on native fish in the Flathead Lake and River System.

In the past 20 years, populations of migratory native cutthroat and bull trout in both Flathead Lake and essential connecting habitat in the Flathead River watershed have drastically declined. As a result, angling opportunities for bull trout have been completely curtailed for bull trout and severely reduced for cutthroats. Biologists conclude that the primary reason for the precipitous drop in native trout is predation from an expanding population of non-native lake trout that occupies Flathead Lake. Lake trout numbers in the catchable range are now estimated to be about 400,000 in the lake. Subsequently, adult bull trout that use the lake and which migrate into the upper river now number only around 2,500 – 3,500 individuals, which is a small percentage of their historical average. In recognition of the problem, the 10-year co-operative plan guiding fishery management on the lake, developed in 2000 by the Tribes and MTFWP, sought to reduce lake trout numbers by employing recreational angling and fishing tournaments. Results from this plan, now in its 10th year, indicate not enough lake trout are being removed to speed recovery of bull and cutthroat trout populations.

The Tribes and MTFWP are now evaluating the potential for additional measures for lake trout removal, including a carefully designed and time-limited pilot project involving gillnetting. The intention is to reduce the lake trout population further, providing an opportunity for bull and cutthroat trout to increase their numbers, while at the same time protecting current angling opportunities in the Lake.

The board of Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited supports moving forward with an inclusive process to define future options to restore native fishes using NEPA and Environmental Assessment strategies. If you care about native fish in the Flathead, please plan to attend one of the upcoming meetings to learn more about the proposal and to provide the fisheries managers with comments on how they can improve the proposed plan. You can also obtain more information about this important issue by downloading a copy of the Montana Trout Unlimited FAQ: What Anglers Should Know About Flathead Lake, Lake Trout and Native Trout in printable pdf format from our website. There is also additional information about the project and native fish issues on the Flathead Trout Unlimited Website. We hope you will plan to attend the local meetings and voice your support for Montana’s native fish.

Public Meeting Schedule:
April 12, 2010, Polson, MT – Kwa Taq Nuk Resort, 7:00 to 9:00pm
April 13, 2010, Kalispell, MT – Red Lion Inn, 7:00 to 9:30pm
April 14, 2010, Missoula, MT – Wingate Inn, 7:30 to 9:30pm