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Fish Managers Show Success In Keeping Pend Oreille Northern Pike From Moving Into Columbia River
Posted on Friday, February 27, 2015 (PST)

State and tribal fish managers are winning the battle against invasive northern pike on a section of the Pend Oreille River in northeast Washington, but they don't expect to declare victory anytime soon.


For the fourth straight year, crews from the Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department will use gill nets to remove non-native pike from Box Canyon Reservoir and work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to monitor the results.


As in previous years, the netting operation will run five days per week through March and April, even though fish managers estimate they have already removed more than 90 percent of the northern pike from the reservoir.


In May, followup index netting is conducted to assess the effect that the gill-netting, which has primarily targeted northern pike spawning grounds, has had on the overall population and on the production of juveniles. The adult pike prefer flooded riverside grass land for spawning in late winter and early spring. Fish tagging helped state and tribal biologists identify some 26 primary spawning sites along the Pend Oreille, many between Cusick and Usk.


"Northern pike are voracious predators that pose a significant threat to native and game fish species," said Bruce Bolding, WDFW warmwater fish program manager. "We can't stop these fish from moving into Washington waters from Idaho, but we're going to do everything we can to keep their numbers as low as possible."


A key goal is to keep northern pike from moving downstream from the Pend Oreille River into the Columbia River, where they could affect salmon and steelhead populations, Bolding said. Those salmon and steelhead stocks include threatened and endangered fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.


Surveys conducted by WDFW and KNRD between 2004 and 2011 documented a rapid increase in the number of pike in Box Canyon Reservoir and a significant decline in abundance of other fish species.


Bolding said gillnetting during early spring has proven to be the most effective method of reducing northern pike. Between 2012 and 2014, more than 16,000 fish (38,000 pounds) were removed by netting.


In addition, anglers harvested a total of 334 northern pike during "PikePalooza" fishing derbies sponsored by KNRD, which offered more than $20,000 in cash and prizes over the past three years.


Jason Olson, KNRD Fisheries Conservation Program manager, said the tribe will not conduct similar fishing derbies this year, because the numbers of northern pike have been reduced so far.


“It looks like we’re been really effective,” at reducing pike numbers in the Pend Oreille River reservoir created by Box Canyon, Olson said. The Pend Oreille flows west out of northern Idaho, then turns north in northeasternmost Washington before running briefly into Canada and later feeding into the Columbia River along the Washington-British Columbia border.


"We expect sport angler catch rates for northern pike in Box Canyon Reservoir to remain low," Olson said. "However, bass fishing can be exceptional, and populations of brown trout and panfish are showing signs of rebounding."


The smallmouth bass, a non-native species, are a popular fishing target. The pike control program is designed to take the pressure off bull trout, which are ESA listed, westslope cutthroat trout, suckers, white fish and minnow species that are all native stocks.


State and tribal fishery managers encourage anglers to harvest as many northern pike as they can from both Box Canyon and Boundary reservoirs. Boundary Dam’s reservoir is north of Box Canyon (downstream)


WDFW encourages anglers to harvest northern pike, which are classified as a prohibited species so pike caught must be dead before removing them from the vicinity of the waterway. There is no daily nor possession limit, and no minimum size. Small or skinny pike, sometimes stunted by overpopulation, will still reproduce and cause problems, according to WDFW. 


Removing live northern pike from one waterway and releasing them in another is illegal. Such transportation is one of the methods by which northern pike were introduced to the Pend Oreille. Illegal releases into the Flathead, Bitterroot and Clark Fork river systems in Montana are believed to be a main source, with fish suspected to have migrated downstream into Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille and then into Washington.


“Most of the pike are coming down in big flow years,” Olson said.


Although the largest population of northern pike is in Box Canyon Dam Reservoir, the species is also in Boundary Dam Reservoir further north on the Pend Oreille River. Anglers have also occasionally reported catching pike in the Columbia River just north of the Canada border, near Northport and just upstream of Kettle Falls, and in the Spokane River from Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho to Long Lake in Spokane County.


For more information about northern pike in Washington and annual summaries of the project see . 


Also see:


-- CBB, Dec. 16, 2011, “Washington Gears Up To Stop Non-Native Northern Pike From Invading Columbia Basin Salmon Country”


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