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Phillips Reservoir: Oregon Introduces 25,000 Tiger Muskie To Eat Perch Decimating Rainbow Trout
Posted on Friday, June 28, 2013 (PST)

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Tuesday released 25,000 tiger muskie into east-central Oregon’s Phillips Reservoir in hope they’d eat down the nonnative yellow perch population that is outcompeting the local trout population.


The releases are intended to help restore the once-thriving rainbow trout fishery in the reservoir near Baker City.


Phillips Lake was created on the Powder River with the construction of Mason Dam, which began in 1965 and was completed in 1968. At full pool the lake is five miles long, covers 2435 acres, and has a capacity of 90,500 acre-feet. The dam and reservoir are part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Baker Project, which provides water for the irrigation of agricultural land in the Powder River Valley. The Powder River feeds into the lower Snake River upstream of the Hells Canyon Complex of dams on the Idaho-Oregon border.


The tiger muskie (a sterile cross between muskellunge and northern pike) introduction is the first into Oregon waters, according to Tim Bailey, ODFW fish biologist. The top-tier predator should help control the runaway yellow perch population that has decimated the trout fishery in Phillips Reservoir, the state agency says.


“Tiger muskie have been used elsewhere in the United States to help restore trout fisheries threatened by an over-abundant, competitive species,” he said. “Because both muskie and northern pike co-exist with yellow perch in their native environment, and feed on them heavily, we expect they’ll eat large numbers of yellow perch in Phillips.”


The 5-inch long, hatchery reared, tiger muskie came from the Wyoming Fish and Game Department. ODFW biologists released the fish in several parts of the reservoir.


Even at that size, the fish already are highly piscivorous (fish-eating) and Bailey expects the tiger muskie to begin feeding on young perch almost immediately. It’ll be another three years before the tiger muskies approach maturity and could be expected to take a bigger bite out of the perch population.


The muskies will likely bite into the stocked trout, but perch are expected to be the most common target.


“At any one time there’s 10,000 to 20,000 trout in the reservoir, and 1.5 million perch,” Bailey said.


“The issue is the survival of the trout that we stock,” he said. The agency each spring does trap netting in the reservoir to help evaluate populations of trout, perch and other fish species, as well as collect growth and other data.


During the 1970s and 1980s, Phillips Reservoir was the area’s most popular trout fishery, averaging nearly 38,000 angler trips a year. Trout caught were 14 to 16-inches long.


The fishery was part of the Baker County economy, generating almost $1.5 million a year in economic activity.


But the illegal introduction of yellow perch in the late 1980s or early 1990s served to decimate the trout population, and the fishery, as the perch out-competed trout for large zooplankton, a major food source for both species.


Today, the annual number of angler visits had plummeted to only 3,100 in 2010, according to ODFW.


In 2008 the Baker County Commission appointed an advisory committee to work with ODFW to develop and conduct an angler preference survey for Phillips Reservoir. The survey results showed a clear preference for a trout fishery, so ODFW staff and committee members began to develop a game plan for controlling the perch population and restoring trout numbers.


Restoring the trout fishery in Phillips would not be as simple as poisoning the perch with rotenone or another fish toxicant and starting over, according to Bailey. The reservoir’s complexity, the number of perch and its tolerance for rotenone called for a different solution.


“With the help of local anglers and members of the advisory committee we developed a multi-step plan for how to proceed,” he said.


That plan included:


-- Replacing fingerling-size stocked trout with larger catchable trout in 2004.

-- Introducing the aggressive, predatory tiger trout to create a trophy fishery in 2011.

-- The mechanical removal of yellow perch using trap nets. Since 2009 over 240,000 pounds of yellow perch have been removed.

-- Introduction of a top-line predator, tiger muskie, to prey directly on yellow perch in 2013.


In 2012, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission amended the state’s wildlife integrity rules to allow the introduction of tiger muskie into Phillips Reservoir. At this time, the rules restrict tiger muskie to Phillips Reservoir specifically to help control illegally introduced yellow perch.


In their native range, tiger muskie reach prodigious size and are popular with anglers. In Phillips Reservoir, the harvest of tiger muskie will not be allowed so that they can continue to carry out their assignment.


“Right now, the primary reason to have tiger muskie in Phillips Reservoir is to help control yellow perch populations,” Bailey said.

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