New pike-reward program unveiled

The Province is once again taking aim at northern pike by putting up a reward for anglers that target the invasive species.

The Province is once again taking aim at northern pike by putting up a reward for anglers that target the invasive species in the Columbia and Pend d’Oreille River systems.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) is offering anglers a chance to win $500 in fishing equipment by retaining all caught pike and returning the head(s) to the FrontCounterBC office in Castlegar.

“The project that we’re rolling out this year, the first piece of it . . . is the pike-head reward program and that’s a similar effort we had in 2013-14 to try and get people interested in helping, and give them some reward for that,” said MFLNRO biologist Matt Neufeld.

The effort will not only help reduce the pike population, but also provide valuable information on the distribution and abundance of this non-native invasive predator, and assess the impacts it is having on fish populations.

In addition, the Ministry will team up with Thompson River University (TRU) grad students to study the feasibility of pike suppression, and consultants to continue with its netting program to further curtail pike population growth.

The proposed grad-student program would see a number of funding partners including Teck, BC Hydro, the Ministry of Environment, HETF, and TRU, and while a candidate has yet to be chosen, Neufeld says action is imminent.

“Removal netting is going to happen next week,” he said. “It’s funded by Teck and our Ministry, and it’s going to be two weeks of focused gill netting to try and remove pike (in the Robson Reach area).”

According to Neufeld, the prospective grad student will look at the bigger picture, and try to determine if pike are spawning successfully by looking for larval fish in the Robson area, as well as the risk of pike escapement into the Arrow Lakes, and studying the pike presence in the Pend d’Oreille and lower Salmo River.

Last year’s results of the MFLNRO’s first netting program indicated that the spring was indeed the best time for capturing pike.

“What we found last year with that netting program – there was netting in May, and I believe it was in September and November – the catch rates were highest in May and it dropped off later in the year.”

Pike had shown ample signs of spawning last year, but whether they’re broacast eggs and young fry can thrive or not remains uncertain.

“They are certainly spawning, the unknown piece is whether the habitat is good enough there to actually have young survive,” added Neufeld. “It’s kind of sub-par as far as suitability.”

While pike are native to much of northeastern B.C., they were not previously found in the Columbia River drainages of southeast B.C. Pike were illegally introduced into the system via the Pend Oreille River in the United States and are now working their way downstream into the Columbia River’s tributaries.

Pike are apex predators, and can consume large numbers of fish every day. Soft-bodied fish such as rainbow trout are often preferred food. Even when not directly preying on them, pike also compete with native fish for common food resources, possibly reducing their survival and size.

Unchecked, there are serious concerns that pike could also impact recovery efforts for species such as white sturgeon and shorthead sculpin in the Columbia River.

Pike are also known to carry diseases and parasites that are potentially harmful to local fish populations.

The Province encourages anglers to kill all pike they catch to help control their numbers. The daily quota for northern pike in the Columbia River is unlimited.

To be included in the $500 draw, anglers must bring the heads of any pike caught in the Canadian section of the Columbia or Pend d’Oreille Rivers to the FrontCounterBC office located in Castlegar at 845 Columbia Ave.

For each head returned, anglers will receive one entry in the draw. There will be four separate $500 prizes awarded, in the form of credit at participating sporting goods stores. The draw will be conducted on March 25, 2016. A similar program concluded in March 2014. That program required fishermen to have a pike head with a special chip inset into its head in order to win. The new program automatically qualifies any angler who brings a pike head in for a chance at a reward. Future programs to reduce pike numbers will be planned based on the information gained through angler returns.

With files from  Greig Bethel Media Relations MFLNRO.