A draft environmental review for a lake trout netting project on Flathead Lake has been delayed but should be released sometime this winter, an official with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes said Thursday.
Early this year, tribal officials predicted the draft environmental assessment would be finished before fall arrived.
“We’re taking longer than we expected and there are reasons for that,” said Barry Hansen, a fisheries biologist who is leading the effort.
“Our pace of (lake trout) harvest has been very good in 2010 so we don’t feel pressured to be implementing something very fast,” Hansen said. “We’re developing this EA in a very careful and thorough way.”
Anglers caught a total of 14,351 lake trout during the fall Mack Days fishing event on Flathead Lake, and a whopping 34,637 were caught during the spring Mack Days. The annual events are part of an overall effort to suppress lake trout populations to reduce competitive pressures on native bull trout and cutthroat trout in the Flathead basin.
That is the primary goal behind the proposal to use commercial-style netting on the lake, with the tribes initially calling for the removal of 60,000 lake trout in the first year, then 80,000 and 100,000 in the years that follow.
The draft assessment, however, will lay out a series of alternative approaches with different targets and different projected outcomes.
Hansen said a University of Wisconsin professor has been retained to do modeling that will project different outcomes.
That analysis will show “how the population will change under various scenarios,” Hanson said, adding that it will predict population changes in total numbers as well as changes in lake trout size classes.
That information and other data will be available in detail in the draft assessment, which will be posted on the tribes’ Website under “management” at http://www.mackdays.com
There will be a public comment period after the release, followed by adjustments and development of a final environmental assessment.
The draft is sure to generate comments, considering the netting proposal has been met with stiff opposition from many anglers and others who are concerned it will ruin the popular lake trout fishery in Flathead Lake with other environmental and economic consequences. Many are concerned that netting will become a perpetual project, rather than a temporary effort.
Tribal officials have said they intend to address or respond to concerns that are raised through the environmental assessments.