Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials offered several objections to a draft plan for reducing lake trout populations in Flathead Lake on Monday.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes released their draft environmental impact statement on Friday. It proposes removing between 25 percent and 75 percent of the lake trout in Flathead.
Lake trout are non-native to the area and are blamed for reductions to the native cutthroat and bull trout populations. The plan proposes a combination of fishing derbies such as Mack Days, along with gill-netting and bounties.
“Though FWP supports efforts to conserve native fish in the Flathead lake and river system, FWP is not joining CSKT in their proposed lake trout gill-netting suppression effort due to concerns regarding the public involvement process and uncertain outcomes of the proposed effort,” agency officials wrote in a “Q&A for Flathead Lake Fisheries Co-management” statement Monday.
While FWP shares responsibility for the state’s largest freshwater lake with the tribal government, it pulled out of the lake trout plan in March 2012.
In an email from FWP Region 1 spokesman John Fraley, the agency listed four main objections to the lake trout plan. First, bull trout populations are 60 percent above their secure threshold, it said, “so there is no purpose and need to proceed with gill netting at this time.”
Second, state officials questioned the reliability of population models used in the plan, stating, “We believe that the analysis underestimates the risk to bull trout from the proposed gill netting actions, and overestimates the benefit to bull trout. We also believe that the impacts to the recreational fishery are underestimated.”
Third, FWP worried gill-netting would result in killing excessive numbers bull trout and lake whitefish while trying to remove lake trout.
And finally, the agency asked how the plan might affect populations of mysis shrimp, which are now food for lake trout and whitefish. Taking too many of the fish could lead to algae blooms and decreases in water quality.
“Mysis shrimp were introduced into the upper Flathead Drainage in 1968 and appeared in Flathead Lake in 1981,” the FWP statement noted. “That led to an increase in non-native lake trout, collapse of the kokanee fishery and declines in native fish including bull and cutthroat trout. Since then, aggressive sport fishing has reduced lake trout abundance, and bull trout have stabilized at half the pre-mysis numbers. Unfortunately, mysis have permanently changed the ecology of the lake.”
The tribal government started sponsoring the Mack Days fishing derby in 2002 to reduce lake trout numbers through a public competition. This spring, anglers reeled in 28,088 fish. But tribal biologists now believe it isn’t working well enough to justify its $150,000 in prize expenses.
“So far, the levels of lake trout being harvested are not sufficient to significantly reduce the lake trout population in the lake,” fisheries biologist Barry Hansen wrote in a statement on the Mack Days website, mackdays.com.
The tribes plan to cancel the tournament if the environmental impact statement’s “no-action” alternative is chosen because it no longer believes the monetary investment is justifiable, according to the website. But Mack Days would remain the first tool to use if any of the other reduction strategies are chosen.
The deadline for public comment 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, MT 59855. They also can be emailed to email@example.com, with “DEIS comment” in the subject line.