With northern pike invading the Columbia River, fisheries managers south of the border are enlisting the help of anglers in an attempt to reduce the population of the voracious predator throughout the system.
Washington State fishery managers in the next few months plan to enlist fishermen to remove as many of the northern pike as possible from the Pend d’ Oreille River.
Earlier this year, the department held public meetings in Spokane and Newport to discuss options for controlling northern pike.
Regardless of what other methods are used, anglers represent the major line of defense, said John Whalen of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
On the Columbia River, B.C. fisheries modified regulations last summer that required the release of all caught pike. The B.C. regs now fall in line with those of Washington State that offer no daily catch limits on the apex predator.
The State agency also proposed changing fishing regulations to allow anglers to fish with two poles in the Pend Oreille River and stripping the northern pike from its designation as a “game fish,” while continuing to classify it as a “prohibited species” that cannot lawfully be transported to state waters.
“Anglers could keep fishing for them, but the change in designation would signal that the priority is to control the spread of northern pike and their impact on native fish species,” Whalen said.
Fish biologists have traced the movement of northern pike into the Pend d’Oreille River from rivers in Montana, where they were stocked illegally. They then followed the river systems through Idaho and into eastern Washington.
Studies conducted with the Kalispell Tribe of Pend Oreille County and Eastern Washington University show a dramatic decline in native minnows, large-mouth bass, yellow perch and other fish species that inhabit the 55-mile Box Canyon Reservoir.
This portion of the Pend d’Oreille River has become home to the first naturally reproducing northern pike fishery in Washington, said WDFW’s research biologist Marc Divens.
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.
It has been almost two years since the species was first caught in the B.C. portion of the Columbia near Trail.
“Non-native northern pike are high impact predators of many other fish,” said Whalen. “We are increasingly concerned about future impacts to native trout and other species, including salmon and steelhead.
“That’s a big concern. If northern pike start spreading down the Columbia River, they could create significant ecological and economic damage.”
With files from the Statesman Examiner.