After attempting to gut our environmental laws, flood our waterways with cyanide and restrict our access to public waters, our GOP legislators evidently feel they are now qualified to manage our fisheries. A letter making the rounds by intrepid Flathead Republican legislators is filled with so many inaccuracies and mistruths, I don’t know where to begin. First off they claim we have a “world-class fishery” in Flathead Lake that is somehow in danger. In truth what we have is a mediocre fishery based on nonnative and hybrid fish. We had a world class fishery with native fish in the Flathead and we screwed it up. We had thousands of bull trout to more than 20 pounds throughout the Flathead River system. We replaced that with a bloated population of small lake trout that never leave Flathead Lake. To fish for lake trout you either have to invest thousands of dollars in a boat and equipment or hire an expensive outfitter. To fish bull trout in the river all you needed was a rod and a red and white plug.
They claim that the “vast majority” of the public support the invasive fish population. The truth however, is a matter of public record and a large majority of comments to the public process were in support of doing something to help our native Montana fish. Yes, some speakers at public meetings were strongly opposed to trying to restore native fish, but loudness does not equate to a “vast majority“.
The legislators claim that the bull trout and lake trout populations are “stable“. To believe that is nothing short of fantasy. Lake trout have now replaced bull trout in nine of the twelve lakes connected to Flathead Lake in Glacier Park. We now have lake trout in Swan Lake, Lindbergh Lake and Holland Lake and bull trout are in decline throughout the drainage. We are scrambling to save a few native fish in the Swan. The 2010 FWP redd counts in the North Fork Flathead were the lowest in decades. Many streams show only single digit bull trout spawners.
All biologists agree that the number one problem for bull trout survival in our waters is competition and predation by voracious nonnative lake trout. We are the ones who screwed up our “world class” native fishery and it is up to us to fix it. These are all manmade problems that can be remedied. FWP and CSKT are in the middle of an inclusive public process to come up with answers that will help our native fish populations to survive into the future. We need to pay attention and support a sound scientific solution. What we certainly don’t need is for our amateur legislators to get involved and mess things up worse than we already have.