Smallmouth, largemouth, walleye and other popular but nonnative gamefish species might one day be reclassified as invasive in Washington, a proposal meant to help out the prey of struggling killer whales but one that would further alienate warmwater anglers who already feel like the state’s redheaded stepchildren.
A Seattle TV station got ahold of that and other draft recommendations that Governor Jay Inslee’s state orca task force has developed ahead of their Monday, Sept. 24 release for public comment.
According to KCPQ, “Prey Potential Recommendation 27” calls on Inslee to support adding bass, walleye, catfish, perch and more to a list that includes northern pike, several species of carp and northern snakeheads.
The idea is “to allow and encourage removal of these predatory fish in the waters containing salmon or other ESA-listed species,” according to documents that reporter Brett Cihon cites.
The papers state:
“Walleye in the Columbia River are reported to consume more than two juvenile salmon daily while bass are reported to consume more than one juvenile salmon per day. There are likely millions of these non-native predatory fish in Washington waters, including Lake Washington and other water bodies, containing salmon. Twenty-four million salmon smolts are consumed by these non-native species between McNary Dam and Priest Rapids dam.”
It wasn’t clear where the reported figures originated, but walleye do now occur throughout much of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as many Columbia Basin reservoirs and lakes.
These waters are so rich with forage – and not just salmonid smolts but young shad, perch, catfish and squawfish, according to guides quoted in a Northwest Sportsman article during last winter’s trophy fishery period – that anglers come from the home of walleye, the Upper Midwest, to try and catch fish into the high teens if not set a new state or world records, or at least personal bests.
Bass are simply everywhere, in lakes and slower, warmer rivers across the state, and support a number of fishing tournaments.
A 2011 paper KCPQ cited captured the dichotomy between the species’ value to anglers and fisheries and its danger to native fish. Researchers said there were 75,000 smallmouth bass anglers in Washington in 2006, or 14 percent of the state’s fishermen, and they spent 1.1 million days afield to the tune of $32.6 million in economic activity.
Those figures were also mostly below 1996 levels in not only Washington but Oregon and Idaho. The paper suggested site-specific regulations for areas of known salmonid smolt concentrations.
Since it came out, Washington and Oregon have moved to liberalize walleye, bass and catfish regulations, dropping size and daily limits on the Columbia and its tributaries, after pressure from federal overseers to show the states are doing something to reduce predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts.
But now the focus is on orcas and their prey. Fall Chinook from the Lower Columbia and its tribs, as well as the Hanford Reach and Snake River, along with spring and summer king stocks from the Cowlitz, Kalama and Idaho rivers were found to be among the most important to southern resident killer whales, according to a new analysis out earlier this summer.
Anglers are being paid to remove northern pikeminnows, a native but numerous species that have benefited from the damming of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and they’re also getting cash to cut off the heads of northern pike in Lake Roosevelt.
KCPQ also reported that among other potential recommendations, the task force suggests removing three smaller dams on the Middle Fork Nooksack, Pilchuck and Naches Rivers; support efforts in Congress to make it easier to remove sea lions from more Lower Columbia Basin waters; establish a “no white-water wake” within half a mile of orcas; and develop a new limited-entry whale-watch boat permit program.
Some observers of the process are reported to feel that the measures aren’t strong enough or that their effects are too short-term.