FISHING – State and tribal workers will begin setting gillnets Monday for another season of suppressing non-native northern pike in the Pend Oreille River downstream from Newport.
The Kalispel Tribe in cooperation with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will deploy nets where pike congregate Monday through Friday until May.
“Northern pike are voracious predators that pose a significant threat to native and game fish species,” said Bruce Bolding, WDFW warmwater fish program manager. “We can’t stop these fish from moving into Washington waters from Idaho, but we’re going to do everything we can to keep their numbers as low as possible.”
In three years of netting, fisheries biologists estimate they have removed 90 percent of the invasive northern pike from Box Canyon Reservoir.
The goal is to interrupt northern pike from moving downstream into the Columbia River, where they could affect salmon and steelhead populations, Bolding said.
“We’ve suppressed the pike, now we want to make sure the juvenile recruitment remains low,” said Jason Olson, the tribe’s pike project coordinator. “The goal is to keep pike numbers about where they are.”
This year’s netting effort will be shorter than in previous years, he said.
Pike suppression nets will be anchored at the mouths of sloughs where pike are known to congregate before spawning. The nets will be pulled on weekends when some anglers like to target the same spots.
In May, the annual pike index survey will involve gillnets set at various points to estimate the population of pike in the river.
Funding for the pike suppression comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, Avista and the state Fish and Wildlife Department, Olson said.
Surveys conducted between 2004 and 2011 documented a rapid increase in the number of pike in Box Canyon Reservoir and a significant decline of other fish species.
Gillnetting in early spring has proven to be the most effective method of reducing northern pike. From 2012 through 2014, more than 16,000 fish – 38,000 pounds –were removed by netting, Bolding said.
In addition, anglers caught a total of 334 northern pike during the tribe’s “PikePalooza” fishing derbies, which offered more than $20,000 in prizes over three years.
No derby is scheduled this year, Olsen said, noting that angler interest dropped as pike numbers were reduced.
“However, bass fishing can be exceptional, and populations of brown trout and panfish are showing signs of rebounding,” he said. The tribe is considering sponsorship of a pike category in an established bass fishing tournament to encourage anglers to keep targeting pike.
That would require a change of attitude for tournament anglers, who generally release their catch. State law requires pike caught in Box Canyon and Boundary reservoirs to be killed.
Problems with northern pike started with illegal releases of the fish into the Flathead, Bitterroot and Clark Fork river systems in Montana, where they migrated downstream into Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille and into Washington, Bolding said.
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