Editor’s Notebook: Don’t Wait For More Reports To Gear Up For Intensive Pike Suppression, Rapid Detection

What’s the economic cost to the region if invasive, voracious northern pike find their way out of Lake Roosevelt and downstream into the Columbia River mainstem, and into salmon and steelhead spawning beds in its tributaries?

About $16 billion.

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But $16 billion is, at the least, how much the region has spent on salmon and steelhead recovery in the last 30 years.

So I am thinking about lost investments. If the region has spent X amount of public dollars to, take one example, recover vulnerable wild Upper Columbia steelhead, and large numbers of pike get into this ESA-listed fish’s spawning grounds in the Wenatchee, Methow and Okanogan rivers, we could be talking extinction. Poof goes the X dollars.

Add more lost investment if large numbers of pike move down the Columbia and you end up with a very big number – billions of dollars.

One female pike produces tens of thousands of eggs. Just one female pike and one male pike that make it out of Lake Roosevelt could produce thousands of juveniles. Pike are highly piscivorous, eating small and large fish of all species to more than half their own body length. Soft-rayed fishes like juvenile salmonids are a preferred and vulnerable prey. Pike can live over 20 years and grow to over 45 pounds.

Past public investments to improve dam passage and habitat for salmon and steelhead could go up in smoke pretty quick if these apex predators are allowed to rampage unchecked through fish communities.

Recently the Northwest Power and Conservation Council asked economists to quantify the costs of suppressing northern pike. The economists came back with a report saying the answer would require “a large-scale ecological-economic exercise.”

They said more and new research is needed for a such a cost analysis.

And last month, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board offered to the Council a fascinating, important report on basin predation. The scientists said what’s needed is a “system-wide, ecosystem-based approach for assessing and managing fish, avian, and pinniped predators collectively.” That will create “a more effective and consistent framework for developing and implementing control actions.”

“Assessing impacts of all potential predators throughout the Basin will require integrated analytical tools, such as life-cycle models for salmon and steelhead, measurement of SARs, and density dependence analysis. This type of analysis would allow managers and policymakers to identify (a) locations where life stages of prey species are most susceptible to different predators and (b) the relative benefits of decreasing salmonid mortality at different life stages, making control efforts more biologically and economically effective.”

The scientists also said that it’s not a matter of if pike enter the Columbia River downstream of Lake Roosevelt, but when.

No doubt such broad ecosystem-based analyses, both biology and economics, would be useful, if costly and time-consuming, exercises.

But let’s remember the region acted to lethally remove sea lions at Bonneville Dam without a system-wide, ecosystem-based analysis because the pinnipeds were eating ESA salmon. The region, without the deep predation analysis recommended by the ISAB, went after avian predators in the estuary because it was clear ESA juvenile salmon was a favorite food. And the pikeminnow removal program is a long-time staple of predator control that the scientists say needs some updating on actual results.

The pike, which could be a far worse predator than pinnipeds, birds, pikeminnow, bass and walleye, aren’t swimming in circles in Lake Roosevelt waiting for more reports.

The beasts are on the brink of moving downstream.

So while waiting for large-scale, ecosystem wide research reports on predation, salmon recovery policymakers — the Council and others — must ensure right now that resources will be available for intensive suppression of pike to continue, and expand.

Reducing the number of pike in Lake Roosevelt and upstream will reduce the chances of new populations downstream and delay invasion.

But once pike are found downstream in salmon country, policymakers will hopefully have had the foresight to ensure that resources will be available immediately for early detection and rapid suppression. That’s a lot cheaper than waiting until pike are established.

— Bill Crampton, Editor

(Comments? Disagreements? Contact Bill Crampton at billcrampton@bendcable.com)

For background on northern pike spreading in the Basin the last 10 years, see:

— CBB, June 7, 2019, THE PIKE DANGER: WILL ECONOMIC IMPACT REPORT LIGHT A FIRE ON SUPPRESSION EFFORTS? https://www.cbbulletin.com/the-pike-danger-will-economic-impact-report-light-a-fire-on-suppression-efforts/

— CBB, May 14, 2019, “Salmon Predation Questions: Scientists Say Inevitable Voracious, Invasive Pike Will Move Downstream of Grand Coulee,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/salmon-predation-questions-scientists-say-inevitable-voracious-invasive-pike-will-move-downstream-of-grand-coulee/

— CBB, November 20, 2018, “27-Pound Pike Caught In Lake Roosevelt; Plan Approved For Science, Economic Review Of Pike Predation,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441815.aspx

— CBB, October 12, 2018, “Where Did Pike In Columbia Basin Come From? Detection, Suppression Necessary To Slow Invasion,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441655.aspx

–CBB, September 14, 2018, “Council Approves Funding For Northern Pike Suppression Efforts In Lake Roosevelt,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441487.aspx

–CBB, July 27, 2018, “Fighting The Northern Pike Invasion Into Basin: Spokane Forum Calls Economic Impact Study A Priority,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441190.aspx

— CBB, May 11, 2018, “Pike Suppression Efforts, Costs to Rise As Managers Fight To Keep Fish from ‘Anadromous Zone,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440703.aspx

— CBB, February 16, 2018, “Scientists Want More Detailed Information On Northern Pike Suppression Plan In Lake Roosevelt,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440224.aspx

— CBB, July 21, 2017, “Lake Roosevelt Northern Pike Numbers Rise; ‘Chronic Recruitment, Exponential Growth’,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439314.aspx

— CBB, June 23, 2017, “Invasive Northern Pike Spreading In Lake Roosevelt; Tribe Seeks Funds To Expand Removal Efforts,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439148.aspx

–CBB, September 23, 2016, “Council OKs More Funds For Fighting Pike Invasion: ‘Pike Pose Enormous Threat To Salmon, Steelhead,’” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437602.aspx

— CBB, January 15, 2016, “Council Considers More Money For Pike Removal: ‘An Alarming Increase In Pike Abundance,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435860.aspx

— CBB, Nov. 19, 2015, “A Northern Pike Caught In John Day Reservoir: For Salmon, Canary In The Coal Mine?” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435580.aspx

— CBB, July 17, 2015, “Invasive Northern Pike Spreading Further, Reproducing; Council Hears Information On States’ Policies,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434535.aspx

— CBB, June 12, 2015, “Invasive Northern Pike Threaten Columbia Basin Salmon: Is Four-State Coordinated Effort Needed?” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434231.aspx

— CBB, April 10, 2015, “Northern Pike Appear To Have Established Presence in Lake Roosevelt,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433645.aspx

— CBB, Feb. 27, 2015, “Fish Managers Show Success In Keeping Pend Oreille Northern Pike From Moving Into Columbia River” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433285.aspx

— CBB, Dec. 16, 2011, “Washington Gears Up To Stop Non-Native Northern Pike From Invading Columbia Basin Salmon Country” http://www.cbbulletin.com/414775.aspx

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