Beginning Aug. 21, the incentive for anglers to target northern pike on the Columbia will go up, way up.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources is taking innovative steps to solve the northern pike problem in the Columbia River, and is offering a $500 reward to anglers who help out.
“I can confirm that the province is launching a program, the Pike Reward program, on the Columbia River specifically,” said Ministry of Forests fisheries biologist Matt Neufeld. “The program essentially is related to tagged fish, so we put a number of pike in the river that were captured and released with integrated electronic tags implanted in their head.”
The tags are not visible to anglers, but fishermen who bring the heads of all pike caught on the Columbia to the B.C. Forest District office in Castlegar will have the heads scanned and if a tag is present the lucky angler will go home $500 richer.
“The basis for the program is that northern pike are introduced and are a non-native species in the Columbia . . . There’s a bunch of concerns related to having pike here, and one of the biggest is that they are pretty efficient predators, they eat fish, they’re top-end predators, so they can certainly have an impact on native fish in the Columbia,” added Neufeld.
The pike first appeared in the Columbia about six years ago, and were confirmed in 2010 when Golder Associates researchers caught five of them during a fish sampling survey on the Columbia near Robson. They are believed to have entered the system from the Pend d’Oreille River, where an increasing number have been caught in recent months.
The Columbia has already absorbed its share of non-native species in walleye, tench, and smallmouth bass, however the effect of pike, its numbers and distribution within the ecosystem, is still uncertain, which is why the province decided to implement the Pike Reward program.
“Non-natives are always a significant concern. They are typically very difficult to eliminate especially in a big system like the Columbia once they’re present. We don’t know enough at this point to know how concerned to be about it, but this program is the start of looking at what’s going on with pike. So get a handle on where people are catching them, and how many anglers are catching, and how people are catching them.”
The information will go a long way to help fisheries managers understand the extent of the pike problem and how to proceed. In the longer term, the province may look at other ways to remove bulk numbers of pike, potentially through netting.
In the meantime, anglers like Mountain Valley Sports Fishing and Tours guide Dwayne D’Andrea of Castlegar will take advantage of the new sports fishing opportunity.
“We’ve got people coming for walleye and when I mention pike a lot of people are interested in them too,” said D’Andrea. “They are probably in the back eddies and slacker water all the way up. We’ll find out more when we start fishing for walleye this fall.”
It’s unlikely that unlimited angling will lead to the complete eradication of the species, says Neufeld, and if they are spawning successfully, then it will be something residents may have to live with for a long time.
“My gut feeling in looking at the habitat types that we’re seeing pike in the Robson reach that there’s not a ton of overlap between rainbows and pike, but there’s ongoing studies to look at rainbow abundance that BC Hydro completes every year . . . so there are some indicators that we’d be able to follow to see if there’s real big impacts there.”
The ministry biologist would not divulge the number of pike heads in which tags were implanted, but said they will continue to implant tags throughout the year. The program will remain in effect until Mar. 15, 2014, at which time it will be reviewed and possibly extended.
“It’s an ironic thing,” said Neufeld. “We really want to kill them all, but here we are catching them and releasing them back into the system.”
It is the hope of the Ministry that anglers will cooperate in the interest of science and the future of the Columbia, – if not, a little pecuniary motivation certainly won’t hurt.