Pike open to predators

Northern pike are back on the menu for fishermen on the Columbia River.

Northern pike are back on the menu for fishermen on the Columbia River.

On June 29, the Ministry of Environment issued a notice to ministry staff that northern pike in the Columbia River  are now officially open for fishing, with a no-limit catch quota – unfortunately they forgot to tell the public.

Although the policy was officially changed last month, there was no media release or publication on the Ministry’s website that informs anglers of regulation changes.

“It was just a case of, ‘they are going to do it, oh they are going to do it’ but nobody did it,” said Ministry spokesperson Lisa Barrett. “There has been a change request put in and the website will be updated.”

In 2009 the Kootenay Region implemented a blanket-wide regulation that closed bass, perch, walleye and northern pike to all fishing.

But it wasn’t until over a year ago that northern pike were discovered in the stretch of Columbia from the Keenleyside Dam to the Waneta border.

Rather than try to rid the system of the apex predator, anglers were not allowed to fish for them and were required to release all pike caught incidentally.

“The intent of the regulation was to discourage introductions, by eliminating the reward of a new fishery resulting from an illegal introduction,” said Stephen MacIver, regulations analyst for Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management.

But as pike catches become more rampant on the Columbia in 2011, the ministry determined that the pike proliferation was not a result of an illegal transplant from some back-yard biologist but rather an offshoot of entrainment from reservoirs on the Pend d’Oreille River.

The increasing number of pike caught in the Columbia also suggests that the population is growing and could become entrenched.

In the past decade, the Box Canyon Reservoir portion of the Pend d’Oreille River has become home to the first naturally reproducing northern pike fishery in Washington, said research biologist Marc Divens, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Washington researchers shocked fishermen and even themselves with a gillnet study last spring that hauled in 755 northern pike, some of which were trophies that would have thrilled anglers.

But the presence of pike could threaten the Columbia’s world-class rainbow-trout fishery as well as populations of other native species such as sturgeon and kokanee.

The intent of the new reg, is for anglers to “provide a tool for control” and stem the spread of another alien species, said MacIvor.