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Lake Roosevelt Northern Pike Numbers Rise; ‘Chronic Recruitment, Exponential Growth’
Posted on Friday, July 21, 2017 (PST)

The population of northern pike that is taking up residency in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir created by Grand Coulee Dam, has spread south this year and has a team of experts saying that suppression of the fish could easily have begun a year or two earlier than it did.


Although native to midwestern states and a big part of Canada and Alaska, in the Northwest northern pike are considered invasive and their spread could be disastrous for areas of the Columbia River basin home to threatened and endangered anadromous salmon and steelhead, according to Chris Donley, Region 1 fish program manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Donley, along with Holly McLellan, principal fisheries biologist with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, described to Northwest Power and Conservation Council members at its meeting in Vancouver, Washington July 12, how northern pike initially spread into the Northwest, how the species continues to spread in Lake Roosevelt and what the coalition of organizations is doing to suppress pike in the lake in order to prevent their spread into the Columbia River downstream.


That coalition includes WDFW, the Colville Tribes, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Council, the Bonneville Power Administration and the National Park Service.


Much of the suppression effort in upper Lake Roosevelt has been in the Colville and Kettle river areas, but the fish, which is voracious and can eat other fish up to 75 percent of its body size, is now spreading into areas south of where the Kettle River flows into the lake.


“2016 was a very good recruiting year for the pike, so this is the population’s biggest year and we are now finding them below the Hunter’s (Campground) area,” McLellan said.


Suppression by gillnetting began in earnest in 2015, but pike first entered the lake from the Pend Oreille River in 2011 and the population has grown steadily.


Spread of the species in Northwest waters was due to introduction into the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers in the 1950s. The Flathead River system was contaminated with pike in the 1970s, as was the Coeur d’Alene River. The Spokane River first saw pike in 1979 and the Pend Oreille River in 2004. The upper Columbia River in British Columbia first saw pike in 2009.


With this expansion of northern pike, especially into the Hunter’s area of Lake Roosevelt, the Spokane Tribe approached the Council and BPA in June to fund additional gillnetting in the lake, asking for $123,017 of Budget Oversight Group funds to increase and expand their pike removal efforts in the lake.


“The Lake Roosevelt Northern Pike population is experiencing chronic recruitment and exponential growth,” the request for funds says. “Since the initial 2015 pilot study, the Lake Roosevelt Co-Managers have removed over 2,000 Northern Pike in the Kettle Falls area, encountered an increasingly diverse size-class structure, and documented the presence of age-0 Northern Pike in the Kettle River, Colville River.”


According to the request, “data collected through April 2017 suggests that juvenile Northern Pike are able to recruit, that growth rates for juvenile and adult Northern Pike are high, and that abundance and distribution of Northern Pike is increasing. An initially small population of non-native invasive Northern Pike can expand rapidly and alter the structure of fish communities through predation.”


(See CBB, June 23, 2017, “Invasive Northern Pike Spreading In Lake Roosevelt; Tribe Seeks Funds To Expand Removal Efforts,”


BPA and the Council formed BOG to address emergencies and lost opportunities in 2004 to conduct a budget tracking process, funding BOG with $1 million each fiscal year (October 1 – September 30).


WDFW considers pike a problem, not an opportunity, Donley said. In 2011, the state agency reclassified pike as a Prohibited Species and adopted a no minimum size, no daily limit and no possession limit for harvest of the fish. In addition, a pike must be killed before it is transported and releasing a pike into other waters is prohibited.


The suppression and monitoring program set up by the partners is funded from numerous sources. The Colville Tribe this year is receiving $225,000 of reallocated Columbia River Accord funds from BPA. It also has a 3-year $25,000 grant from Grant County Public Utility District and a 3-year $35,000 grant from Chelan PUD, in addition to $35,000 of its own funds.


The Spokane Tribes has three years of BOG funding along with the $123,017 they just received in additional BOG funding. They also use $4,500 of their own funds, $72,000 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a $6,000 grant from the American Fisheries Society and $12,000 from the Upper Columbia United Tribes.


WDFW is spending $10,000 of its own money while receiving $50,000 from BPA and $15,000 from Chelan PUD.


See Council staff’s July 3, 2017 memorandum at


“These are not sufficient funds to cover the suppression costs if you want to close the door on these fish,” Donley said. “If your goal is to just protect the fish communities (such as native rainbow trout) in Lake Roosevelt, then it is probably enough.”


Not all the money goes to suppression through gillnetting or electro-fishing. Funds are also spent for research to determine the size and location of the northern pike population in the lake and to determine the pikes’ movements and spawning patterns. Most of that research occurs May through December, while most of the gillnetting is February through June when the fish congregate and spawn (late March to early April) and so are easier to find, McClellan said.


McClellan said the researchers hope that a deep drawdown of the lake will hinder spawning success, but Donley added that these fish have “figured out how to delay their spawn time two to three months.”


Gillnetting this year with overnight setnets (set 525 times for a total of 5,399 hours of gillnetting) have removed 1,083 pike, most near the mouth of the Kettle River and with most of the fish at ages one to four years. The largest fish caught this year? Some 44 inches and 26 pounds.


The overall suppression effort in Lake Roosevelt includes a public outreach campaign to let anglers know there are no minimums when fishing for the pike and a $10 per fish angler reward program run by the Colville Tribes that began this year.


At two locations on the lake, anglers can put pike heads in zip lock bags, fill out a form, and receive a check in the mail, according to a July 14 blog post by the Council’s John Harrison ( Some 216 heads have been turned in since the reward program began in May and one head, said McLellan, was so big it would not fit in the one-gallon bag.


Also see:


--CBB, September 23, 2016, “Council OKs More Funds For Fighting Pike Invasion: ‘Pike Pose Enormous Threat To Salmon, Steelhead,'”


-- CBB, January 15, 2016, “Council Considers More Money For Pike Removal: ‘An Alarming Increase In Pike Abundance,”


-- CBB, Nov. 19, 2015, “A Northern Pike Caught In John Day Reservoir: For Salmon, Canary In The Coal Mine?”


-- CBB, July 17, 2015, “Invasive Northern Pike Spreading Further, Reproducing; Council Hears Information On States’ Policies,”

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