Tribal Council Recommends Aggressive Lake Trout Reduction in Flathead

By Beacon Staff

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are recommending an aggressive reduction of nonnative lake trout in Flathead Lake, the tribe announced Thursday.

The CSKT Tribal Council last week supported a preferred alternative in the draft environmental impact statement that would allow for the reduction of 75 percent of the adult lake trout population in Flathead Lake.

Tom McDonald, CSKT division manager, said the preferred alternative provides the greatest flexibility in Flathead Lake fisheries management. Anglers will still play a significant role in reducing lake trout, McDonald said, along with other possible tools like netting, commercial harvests and bounties.

The upcoming Mack Days fishing tournament on Flathead Lake remains intact and is slated to begin Oct. 4.

According to tribal officials, the implementation of an adaptive management plan will ultimately guide which of the newly available suppression methods have the least by-catch of other fish species and are most compatible with the existing angler-based approaches used to balance the fishery as envisioned by the co-plan. As in the past, CSKT said annual monitoring and reporting of progress under the co-plan goals will ultimately decide the level of improvement to native trout populations and the best balance for a recreational fishery.

CSKT published its latest proposed EIS for suppressing lake trout in June, laying out strategies for benefitting native species like bull trout by reducing the abundance of predatory lake trout. CSKT received 362 comments during the 45-day public scoping process of the EIS, which closed Aug. 5. According to the tribes, the public and agency comments overwhelming favored the use of additional tools to reduce the nonnative trout abundance.

CSKT distinguished four possible management options for lake trout in Flathead — reduce the adult population by 25, 50 or 75 percent, or maintain the status quo. Each alternative was designed to implement measures that increased the number of native fish in the Flathead system while maintaining a recreational fishery, according to CSKT.

The recommendation to possibly reduce 75 percent of the adult lake trout is consistent with direction given by the Flathead Reservation Fish and Wildlife Board, which recently agreed that native bull trout remain in danger in Flathead Lake and that lake trout should be increasingly suppressed in the prized fishery.

According to CSKT, the selection of this alternative does not obligate the harvest of a specific number of lake trout annually, but determines that the impacts of doing so have been fully quantified.

The recommendation of the preferred alternative is the culmination of more than three years of contentious analysis and divisiveness between CSKT and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The public will have another opportunity to comment when the Bureau of Indian Affairs publishes the notice of availability for the final EIS. A record of decision will follow that comment period, and then the CSKT will begin working with co-managers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies in the development of an implementation plan, according to CSKT.

Click here to read the draft EIS.