The headline today is “Tribes propose netting lake trout“. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have released a draft of a pilot proposal to reduce lake trout in Flathead Lake numbers which would include the use of netting. They are interested in forming a work group composed of tribal, state and federal government agencies along with interested private and conservation groups to explore their proposal.
The most common response I have heard goes something like this; “We have allowed wolves to proliferate in Montana and eat all of our deer and elk and now the damn government wants to destroy our best fishery!“. So, through some odd twist of logic, because wolves eat deer, that becomes justification for saving lake trout. Wolves are native to Montana. They were never introduced, reintroduced or planted in Northwest Montana. They spread naturally from an original pack in the North Fork of the Flathead. Lake trout are a non-native, top-tier predator that were introduced both legally and illegally in Montana. Lake trout have had devastating consequences for the upper Flathead. They have spread into the Swan drainage, they are taking over almost all of the lakes and streams in the west side of Glacier Park. Native fish species continue to decline. We now have “a ratio of two lake trout for every bull trout in Logging Lake, and a ratio of six-to-one in Bowman Lake” since 1977.
It is likely that we will loose some distinct populations of native bull trout in many of our tributaries in the near future. We are netting lake trout in Swan Lake and in Quartz Lake to try to salvage some of the genetic diversity of bull trout populations. Bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1998. They are considered to be a Species of Concern by MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks. FWP is required by law to do anything they can to preserve bull trout.
Flathead Lake is co-managed by the CS&KT and MTFWP under a ten-year agreement signed in 2000. Managers estimate that there is now a population of about 400,000 lake trout in Flathead Lake. The estimate for bull trout is 3,000 to 4,000 for the entire basin. The bull trout population has undergone a steady decline for over 30 years. Lake managers have, thus far, chosen to use recreational angling as the sole means to control lake trout. By all measures, this approach has not worked.
The project proposed by the tribes would attempt to remove approximately 25% of the lake trout population under 26 inches from Flathead Lake by 2012 while at the same time sustaining angling pressure at the current 40,000 angler-days per year. The ambitious three-year plan would start by attempting to remove 60,000 lake trout next year by both angling and netting. 60,000 fish by 2008 was the goal established by the mid-term review of the co-management plan. $300,000 has been spent so far and this goal has not been reached by angling alone. Angling pressure actually fell off a bit last year. It’s time to take the next step.
Planning sessions will be held in January and February. Annual meetings will be held to review progress. If you are in favor of reducing the numbers of top predators, like wolves, in Montana, you should love this plan to remove aquatic wolves from our lake. Reducing the number of lake trout in Flathead Lake from 400,000 to 300,000 will do nothing to damage angling opportunities and may go a long way toward saving native populations of bull trout and cutthroat trout in the Flathead. We can no longer allow this noxious invader to continue to pollute the Flathead.