Proposed 2011 Fishing Regulation Changes

By Beacon Staff

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on proposed fishing regulation changes for the 2011 fishing season. Here is a summary of the changes of most interest to Flathead anglers.

o On Flathead Lake, to protect the bull trout population, the lake trout limit would be raised to 100 daily in possession, with no change to the slot limit.

o On the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River, a size restriction for trout will be dropped to be consistent with regulations recently adopted by Glacier National Park. This change would also help to conserve cutthroat trout by encouraging harvest of rainbow trout.

o The one-fish harvest restriction for grayling in Rogers Lake, which was intended to protect a genetic reserve population, would be lifted based on new information revealing that these fish do not possess the desired unique genetic qualities.

You can read the complete list of proposed changes statewide and FWP rationale for the regulation changes at fwp.mt.gov.

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited encourages all anglers to stay involved by submitting comments on these proposed changes.

Comments must be received by Sept. 6. Mail comments to Don Skaar, Fish Management Section Supervisor, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59601 or by email to [email protected].

Montana Trout Unlimited and Flathead Valley TU support efforts to increase lake trout harvest on Flathead Lake by increasing the daily limit to 100 fish. This change will help populations of native bull trout and cutthroat trout. This regulation change however, will result in only a minimal increase in the number of lake trout removed by anglers. Much more needs to be done. Additional regulation changes should be considered by FWP that would do far more to aid native fish populations.

Remove the slot limit on lake trout in Flathead Lake: Larger lake trout (>30 inches) are protected by a slot limit in Flathead Lake. These fish are some of the greatest predators on native fish. A 2006 study found that there is little predation on adult and subadult native fish by lake trout less than about 25 inches in length. The report estimated that lake trout consume roughly 177,000 westslope cutthroat trout in Flathead Lake annually and more than 30,000 native bull trout. Data from the report suggest that lake trout greater than 30 inches (those protected by the slot limit) consume 32% of cutthroats or 57,000 fish annually and a significant portion of the native bull trout. These native fish will not only be unavailable to anglers, but cannot contribute to maintaining native populations by reaching spawning age.

Allow year-round unlimited harvest of northern pike in the Flathead River above Flathead Lake: A study published in 2008 found a consistent population of invasive northern pike in the Flathead River of about 1,300 fish. These fish were illegally introduced by bucket biologists and are voracious predators on native fish. The study found that these pike consume a total of 8 metric tons of fish annually including over 13,000 westslope cutthroats and nearly 3,500 native bull trout. The study concluded that predation by pike contributes to a lower abundance of native salmonids in the system. Northern Pike are currently protected by regulation from harvest in the river during winter months. The proposed 2011 regulations remove limits on northern pike for all trout waters in the Central Fishing District because, “…maximizing the potential harvest of this species is the most cost-effective tool to ensure the population in the drainage does not impact trout populations.” Does it make sense to keep setting catch limits and seasons on illegal pike in the Flathead where they threaten native fish? There should be no catch limit on illegally introduced fish populations and year-round harvest should be encouraged.

Lake trout populations continue to expand outward from the bloated population in Flathead Lake and threaten populations of native fish. A 2009 report from the National Park Service found that bull trout are at “high risk of extinction” in several lakes along the west slope in Glacier National Park. “The decline is directly attributed to the invasion and establishment of introduced lake trout, which consistently displace bull trout.” We need to do all we can to halt this expansion of invasive lake trout in the Flathead basin. Protecting a large portion of the predatory population in the lake via the slot limit can no longer be justified, nor can protecting northern pike in the river. FWP should consider changing fishing regulations to eliminate the slot limit in the lake and to allow year-round harvest of northern pike in the river above the lake. For more information on these and other native fish issues, please visit our website at flatheadtu.org or go to montanatu.org.

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