native bull trout decline in Montana’s Flathead Lake is directly related to the
rise of an introduced and non-native species, the lake trout that have
inundated the reservoir that backs up behind Hungry Horse Dam.
process to control the population of lake trout began with a Fisheries
Management Plan in 2000, with the hopes of also seeing a corresponding rise in
the bull trout population.
has now entered a stage in the harvest of lake trout that includes gillnetting --
and a new business for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, according
to Barry Hansen of the Confederated Tribes.
gave an overview of the tribes’ program to remove lake trout from the reservoir
on the South Fork of the Flathead River at the Northwest Power and Conservation
Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee last week, October 12, in Columbia Falls,
trout were listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the
federal Endangered Species Act in June 1998.
removal effort includes increased angling, allowing a limit on lake trout of
100 per day per angler, a fishing derby known as Mack Days, and now a business
in which the tribes gillnet for the trout and sell frozen fillets of both lake
trout and whitefish in nearby markets and online.
Days began in 2002 and recreational angling continues to be an important
component of the tribes’ goal to remove 143,000 lake trout every year. That’s a
number that biological modeling suggests would allow the bull trout population
to rebound, Hansen said.
tribes don’t intend to fully eradicate lake trout, but instead hope to bring
the numbers to a point where the bull trout population can rebuild.
one fishing contest, 10 of the anglers caught over 14,000 lake trout. However,
only in 2012 and 2015 did the total catch, spring and fall, exceed 50,000 fish,
far below the tribes’ annual goal
2014, the number of fish caught just through angling “hit a plateau and we
determined the best tool to expand the harvest is gillnetting,” Hansen said.
The tribes’ purchased a gillnet boat and began using it that year.
the catch by gillnets was only a little less than 50,000 fish and so the tribes
have contracted to have another larger gillnet boat built. Of the 48,617 fish
caught with the nets, just 39 were bull trout, so bycatch from netting the fish
use the gillnets only in the southern half of the lake, near reservation facilities,
so that they can bring the netted fish to a facility where they filet the fish,
freeze them and deliver them to markets.
anglers are important to the lake trout reduction program, Hansen said.
anglers have bought into it,” Hansen said. “They complement us because they are
able to catch smaller fish than we can with the nets, as the nets tend to catch
juvenile bull trout if the mesh is too small.”
overall effort appears to be working, according to an October 10 Council blog
by John Harrison at www.nwcouncil.org
lake trout population estimates are now beginning to trend downward,” Hansen
said. “This is indicative of the early stages of a successful mitigation
he added at the Council meeting, although “the early signs say the program has
been effective on lake trout, there is no hard data to show that the native
fish are responding, but that should change with enough time.”
tribes have the equipment and staff for a successful, long-term program, but
consistent funding over time is a concern, Harrison’s blog said.
do this kind of work we need a stable, long-term source of funding, and so we
resolved to make this lake trout removal pay for itself,” Hansen said. “We are
now marketing and selling lake trout to help pay for the program.”
trout and whitefish filets are packaged and frozen and sold in grocery stores
and online through a tribal business called Native Fish Keepers, Inc.
August 12, 2016, “Tribes’ Efforts Reducing Non-Native Lake Trout In Flathead
May 16, 2014, “Salish/Kootenai Tribes Pull 5,232 Lake Trout From Flathead Lake
In Initial Gill-Netting,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/430810.aspx
March 14, 2014, “Tribes Publish EIS On Gill-Netting 30,000 Lake Trout In
Flathead Lake To Increase Native Trout,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/430011.aspx
January 10, 2014, “To Aid Listed Bull Trout, Limits Removed On Trophy Size Lake
Trout In South Flathead Lake,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429470.aspx
October 25, 2013, “Spawning Surveys In Flathead River Tributaries Show Bull
Trout Rebound, Stable Population,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428824.aspx