FWP to Hold Meeting on Noxon Reservoir Walleye Project

By Beacon Staff

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is holding a public meeting to answer questions about a proposal to suppress walleye in Noxon Reservoir.

The open house-style meeting will be held from 4-7 p.m. on March 19 at the Thompson Falls Rural Fire Department on Highway 200. FWP will not take verbal comment at the meeting but the public is encouraged to submit written comment.

FWP released a draft environmental assessment for public comment through March 29. The agency is proposing an experimental program that would investigate suppressing illegally introduced walleye in Noxon Reservoir. Sampling would include electrofishing, trapnetting and short-term gill net sets to minimize mortality of non-target species.

FWP is encouraging interested persons to read the EA and provide substantive comments on this document. An environmental assessment is not a popularity vote, although public sentiment will be noted, according to FWP. The decision will be based on biology and substantive issues raised.

To address common comments and frequently asked questions about the EA, FWP prepared the following fact sheet and outlined the reasons this project is being proposed:

Walleye were illegally introduced. FWP’s Illegal and Unauthorized Introduction of Aquatic Wildlife policy states the department will investigate the feasibility of removal and control measures on illegal population. The FWP Commission Walleye Stocking policy states “No introduction of walleye will be made into waters of the state west of the Continental Divide.”

Based on case histories from other western reservoirs, walleye in Noxon Reservoir pose a significant threat to desirable sport and native fish including largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and numerous trout species in Noxon Reservoir due to reproductive capacity (up to 600,000 eggs per female) and habitat overlap. Walleye flushing downstream also pose a threat to the Lake Pend Oreille kokanee and rainbow fishery.

Walleye establishment threatens the future of the $5 million annual Avista fisheries mitigation program for cutthroat, whitefish and bull trout.

Noxon Reservoir is already at carrying capacity for top predators and walleye can only establish at the expense of bass or northern pike with bass the most likely loser.

Annual gillnet monitoring in the reservoirs since 2000 has shown an increasing abundance of walleye, coupled with consistently declining numbers of prey species such as peamouth, pikeminnow and yellow perch. Perch are a popular gamefish in Noxon. In the transfer between trophic levels, it takes about 100 pounds of prey (such as perch) to produce 10 pounds of walleye so there will be a loss in harvest opportunity.

Noxon Reservoir is currently the fifth most popular fishing destination in Region 1 with approximately 30,000 angler days, seven bass tournaments per year and a popular wintertime perch fishery with catch rates of more than 4 perch per hour.

The introduction of walleye into Canyon Ferry Reservoir has been touted as a success but walleye did not boost long-term angler numbers. Walleye increased rainbow stocking costs by about $130,000 per year by requiring catchable trout to avoid predation and that plant uses a large portion of the catchables in the state, reducing opportunity for other waters. Walleye significantly reduced the fishery for yellow perch to about 1 perch per 4 hours. Walleye condition went down with loss of the prey base. Although walleye stunting has been somewhat alleviated recently by several years of poor recruitment the population goes through boom/bust cycles.

The EA can be found online by clicking on the public notice link at www.fwp.gov or a hard copy can be attained at the MFWP offices in Kalispell, Helena or Thompson Falls. Funding for this program will come primarily from Avista fisheries mitigation.

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