POLSON – Anglers aren’t catching enough non-native lake trout in Flathead Lake to make any headway in reducing the population, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes say.
CSKT fisheries biologist Barry Hansen tells the Missoulian that the lake contains about a million lake trout despite two fishing tournaments that that annually yank out 50,000 fish and another 20,000 removed with recreational fishing.
Hansen said that’s about 13,000 below what’s needed to see declines in the lake trout population.
As a result, the tribes are creating a draft environmental impact statement to reduce lake trout numbers with the objective of eliminating enough of the predatory fish to make the lake more survivable for native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.
Some options besides angling the tribes are considering include gill netting, bounties, commercial fishing and commercial netting. Those were suggestions made during a debate among five experts brought in by the tribes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“What the tribes did was take (the comments) seriously, and work with a team to prepare a panel of experts to evaluate them,” Hansen said. “We boiled the concerns down to six hypotheses with a goal of gathering all the information we could to support or reject them.”
The panel said that lake trout group in specific areas, but fan out to areas less suitable as the population expands.
Anglers focus on the areas where the lake trout congregate.
“They learn where those concentrations are,” he said. “Even as the population decreases, the fish that have been forced into less-optimal habitat will move into higher-quality habitat and maintain the densities there.”
The yearly Spring and Fall Mack Days tournaments could be eliminated, the tribes said.
“The prospects for future contests will be determined by the outcome of the Environmental Impact Statement to be completed this spring,” CSKT said at its Mack Days website. “The EIS was only initiated because we determined that Mack Days alone was not sufficient to meet the goals of the (Flathead Lake and River Co-management Plan). Therefore if none of the ‘action’ alternatives is chosen Mack Days would end because the monetary investment would no longer be justifiable.”
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