A local tribe is going to begin an effort to gauge populations of warmwater species at a pair of large Seattle-area lakes, a development that will alarm some spinyray anglers but also provide more data on an emerging threat to the waters’ salmon.
A regulation filed last Friday by the Muckleshoot Tribe of Auburn gave its biologists the go-ahead to begin limited gillnet test fisheries on Lakes Washington and Sammamish for bass and walleye.
Largemouth and smallmouth have been in both lakes for decades and provide popular fisheries, but it is likely that the recent sharp increase in the walleye population is spurring tribal fishery managers to gather more information on this illegally introduced predator that has the potential to impact the lakes’ salmonid stocks, especially sockeye.
The decision appears to have been made without consultation with state comananagers.
We reached out to the Muckleshoots for more details about their operation and will fold any comment in when/if it arrives.
In the meanwhile, the tribe’s June 2016 State of Our Watersheds report may provide some insight into their thinking, with two statements standing out:
“Action is needed now to remove or control walleye before this species becomes established, and to remove other increasingly populous and nonindigenous smallmouth and largemouth bass, especially from locations where salmon juveniles are most vulnerable. Support for predator control actions from state and federal agencies is essential.
“A program to remove predators at key sites in the Ship Canal and in Lake Washington will be conducted and evaluated. Target predators include introduced smallmouth and largemouth bass, and walleye – a recently discovered criminal introduction.”
The first known walleye turned up in Lake Washington in 2005, a small male. But then in late winter 2015, almost by a fluke, a state biologist caught one walleye then five more — including a gravid 13.5-pound hen and several mature bucks — in Lake Washington between Mercer Island and Bellevue during a cutthroat trout study.
Muckleshoot biologists subsequently netted seven walleye to the south of there, as well as one in Lake Sammamish.
It all represented a tripling of the known number of walleye in the system.
As walleye are nonnative, they can only be coming to Lake Washington in livewells or as a byproduct of other illicit activities.
The good news is that no juvenile fish were found in a follow-up fall 2015 survey, but still, the fact that so many adults were found by chance suggests a potential problem in the making.
The netting could make for another problem for state managers.
While it could be said that the Muckleshoots, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and most sport anglers would generally agree walleye must not gain a foothold in the lake system, which is home to ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as coho and a new sockeye hatchery, there’s considerable daylight when it comes to bass.
The lakes provide a stellar sport fishery, and last year Lake Washington was ranked as the country’s eighth best water by Bassmaster magazine. A 2015 University of Washington study suggested smallies were “much more abundant than 10 years ago.”
Because of that and the proximity of so many anglers to the system, word of the netting will likely immediately raise the hackles of bassers, though it seems like their favorite fish are more apt to become entangled come spring instead of the dead of winter when they’re far less active.
And there’s a chance netting could be called off before the spawn.
Per the Muckleshoot’s self-filed regulation, it appears that biologists may net Monday through Friday until further notice, with up to two boats fishing a maximum of four, 300-foot-long 41/2- to 6-inch-mesh gillnets.
Sampling will be done in five zones — four on Lake Washington and one on Sammamish — but only one at any given time.
Fishermen must check their nets twice a day and bring in all of their catch for sampling.
Any wild steelhead that are caught must be released, and the netting will close after three are caught.
At the moment, the test fishery represents something to watch and track.