A major proposal to control lake trout in Flathead Lake appeared in the Federal Register on Friday, touching off what’s likely to be a vigorous debate over how to manage the fish.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes wrote the draft environmental impact statement, with the goal of helping native fish species by reducing lake trout numbers. Its options range from doing nothing to knocking back lake trout populations to a quarter of their 2010 estimate.
“That potentially impacts the recreational fishery,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said on Friday. “Any time you’re netting fish, people are going to have different opinions.“
Aasheim stressed that FWP has not taken a formal position on the proposal and was still studying its suggestions. Fisheries officials at CSKT were not available for comment on Friday.
The draft plan would use a combination of fishing contests, bounties, and targeted gill- and trap-netting to take out lake trout. The non-native, predatory fish has been blamed for steep reductions in Flathead Lake’s cutthroat and bull trout. It has also colonized the upper Flathead River and many of the lakes in Glacier National Park, threatening native fish there.
The annual harvest would range from 84,000 lake trout for a 25 percent reduction, to 143,000 fish for a 75 percent reduction.
The draft plan also looks at how the different harvests would affect the local fishing economy, cultural resources, grizzly bears, environmental justice and Indian Trust resources.
Since 2002, the tribal government has sponsored the Mack Days fishing derby to reduce lake trout numbers through a public competition. This spring, anglers brought in 28,088 fish.
While the contest’s popularity has grown over the years, with $150,000 in prizes this year, CSKT fisheries biologist Barry Hansen reported it wasn’t enough.
“So far, the levels of lake trout being harvested are not sufficient to significantly reduce the lake trout population in the lake,” Hansen wrote in a statement on the Mack Days website (www.mackdays.com).
The tribes plan to cancel the tournament if the “no-action” alternative is chosen because it believes the monetary investment would no longer be justifiable, according to the website. But Mack Days would remain the first tool to use if any of the other reduction strategies get chosen.
The deadline for public comments is Aug. 5. Written comments can be mailed to Les Evarts, Fisheries Program Manager, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Natural Resources Department, P.O. Box 278, Pablo, Mont. 59855. They may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “DEIS comment” in the subject line.