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Invasive Northern Pike Threaten Columbia Basin Salmon: Is Four-State Coordinated Effort Needed?
Posted on Friday, June 12, 2015 (PST)

Northern pike, a voracious predator that is now found as far down the Columbia River as Lake Roosevelt, could soon find its way further downstream where the fish could potentially decimate endangered salmon and steelhead, according to a presentation on the species this week at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s monthly meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.


Northern pike is an introduced species and is not native to the northwest, yet it already has established populations in Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River, Lake Pend Oreille, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Montana and in British Columbia downstream of Keenleyside Dam, as well as Lake Roosevelt.


Although there has yet been a northwest-wide coordinated effort to eradicate or reduce the growing numbers of northern pike, the Kalispell Tribe is doing its part to reduce the pike’s numbers, according Joe Maroney, director of fishery and water resources for the tribe. He said the number of pike in the Pend Oreille River has grown from 400 adult fish in 2006 to 5,500 fish in 2010.


Pike probably can’t be eliminated, but they can be managed and the population reduced significantly, Maroney said. He’s worried, however, that the fish would somehow find their way even further downstream.


“My big concern is sockeye at the mouth of the Okanagan River,” Maroney said. “You should be afraid, very afraid.  You don’t need to study them to death. If you find them, you need to get rid of them. Time is of the essence.”


“When we have a connected river system, there are no stops,” he added.


Maroney told the Council about the tribe’s northern pike mechanical suppression efforts to remove the fish using gillnets in Lake Pend Oreille where there were huge numbers of northern pike, an effort he hopes will keep the species under control.


Targeting spawning areas in March to late April hoping to remove fish before they spawn, gillnetters removed 15,000 northern pike in 2012, and removed over 17,000 fish overall by 2015. In 2012, the gillnetters were catching an average of 5.6 pike per net, but by 2015, the catch averaged just 0.18 fish per net.


While there was a bycatch of other fish, since the time of year was very cold, there was a 90 percent survival rate when the gillnetters returned those fish to the lake.


“So, we were pretty successful at suppressing this population,” he said. “Typically, when we talk about salmon decline, we talk about the four H’s. I think we should add the ‘I.’” (Invasive Species)


One of the problems with completely eradicating northern pike, if it could be done, is that they are popular with anglers, Maroney said. However, there are some things that can be done. For example, the states of Washington and Idaho have removed catch limits on the fish. Fishery managers in Oregon, which reportedly so far have seen no sign of northern pike, haven’t addressed the issue.


Maroney believes the states need to adopt a coordinated policy and a plan to subdue the pike in order to avoid his biggest fear of finding them eating sockeye salmon at the mouth of the Okanagan River.


“The northern pike issue needs to be elevated within the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program,” he said.


Still, not all are on the same page. Phillip Cenaro of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe said the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Department’s reaction to his tribe’s suppression efforts on Coeur d’Alene Lake “were a little disappointing.”


“We wanted to net and kill, but we had to instead relocate the fish to the upper end of the lake for trophy fishing,” he said.


Jim Ruff, Council staff, said state biologists understand the problem, admitting that not all states are on board yet. “We can help encourage state regulations similar to what Washington has,” he said.


In a statement, the Council said it “is concerned about the proliferation of northern pike because of the potential to disrupt and set back ongoing electricity ratepayer-funded efforts to restore fish runs and enhance fisheries throughout the Columbia River Basin. If the downstream migration continues, pike could threaten salmon and steelhead recovery and reintroduction efforts downstream of Chief Joseph Dam.”


Oregon Council member Bill Bradbury said this would need to be a four-state effort and directed the staff to visit with state fishery agencies prior to the Council’s July meeting to determine the appropriate role the Council should play and a way to coordinate states’ efforts.


For background information, go to:


-- CBB, April 10, 2015, “Northern Pike Appear To Have Established Presence in Lake Roosevelt,”


-- CBB, Feb. 27, 2015, “ Fish Managers Show Success In Keeping Pend Oreille Northern Pike From Moving Into Columbia River”


-- CBB, Feb. 22, 2013, “State, Tribal Fishery Managers Will Again Gill-Net Non-Native Pike From Pend Oreille River”


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


-- CBB, Aug. 26, 2011, “Invasive Northern Pike Disaster For Pend Oreille Native Fish; Will Move Further Into Columbia Basin?”


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