We’ll have a big article on Pend Oreille River northern pike in our May issue, but if you want to dive into the hot topic now, set aside the evening of April 19 or 20 and head for Newport or Spokane.
Biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ Natural Resources Department will discuss the non-native predator’s expansion into the Northeast Washington river as well as other Eastside waters.
An early March article in the Newport Miner says they’ve turned up in two Spokane County lakes. A WDFW manager in Olympia would not reveal either waters’ name except to say that the fish could not have arrived without a little help.
“It’s a really, really horrific thing to do,” Warmwater Program manager Bruce Bolding told reporter Janelle Atyeo.
The pike meetings will also be held to take public input on control options — a sport reward fishery is on the table — to minimize their impacts on native fish.
The Miner‘s article sparked a whole lot of talk on WashingtonLakes.com, and its statement that control methods wouldn’t be up for public comment got the attention of local state Senator Bob Morton, who got the attention of WDFW honchoes, who got the attention of the warmwater program.
While the Pend Oreille River’s fishery does not appear to produce the trophies it once did, it does have an increasing following. One blog we did on it last June is the 16th most requested article on our WordPress site over the past year.
“Asking the tribe, or the state, to ‘manage’ pike would be similar to asking the State of Florida to manage Steelhead. I don’t care how much they were taught in school, they simply don’t have the experience or temperament to do it right,” wrote a poster going as Anglinarcher. “I propose the following signs: Hell no, the pike won’t go! Can you hear us now?”
There are echoes of the supposed illicit release of wolves in the Methow Valley in another person’s post. He talks about rumors that the tribe itself put the pike in the river 10 years ago to control pikeminnows.
KNRD Fisheries and Water Resources Director Joe Maroney has heard all that and more.
“We’ve been getting calls — I won’t say off the hook –about what’s going on,” he says. “There are some people who are pro pike and others are like, ‘How do we get rid of these things?'”
Maroney says that the pike are thought to have come down Montana’s Clark Fork River (which becomes the Pend Oreille River) through Lake Pend Oreille.
Biologists first captured a northern in 2004, although locals have known about them since the 1980s. One of my old roommates at Wazzu went on to be a USFS-Newport and Kalispell bio in the 1990s and early 2000s, and he mentioned them to me on occasion.
The first wandering pike found great feeding and little competition — and then they found love. With the “really good” spawning habitat in Box Canyon Reservoir, the population has increased sharply in recent years, says Maroney.
“It’s just amazing the number we got,” he says of netting within the past week. “The majority were between 20 and 24 inches.”
The big catch at a recent pike tournament was all of 24 inches, Maroney adds.
“It’s somewhat alarming — the shift to smaller fish,” he says.
WDFW and KNRD surveys have also documented a reduction in forage fish such as native minnows, whitefish and suckers, as well as non-native sportfish such as largemouth bass, according to a press release from WDFW.
Left unchecked, pike could severely impact other fish — including native westslope cutthroat and bull trout — and undermine efforts to restore native fish populations in the river system, WDFW says.
Control options that WDFW and KNRD are looking at include netting fish and donating them to local food banks, sport-reward fisheries, and fishing tournaments targeting pike.
“We included it (sport reward fisheries) to tell the locals that we’re not set on one control option,” controlled netting,” says Bill Baker, a WDFW district fish biologist in Colville.
How a reward program would be funded, however, is an open question.
“That we don’t know yet,” says Maroney.
Rather, he says, “It’s one of the tools or options that we want to talk with the public about.”
It could be modeled after programs on the Columbia for pikeminnow and Lake Pend Oreille for lake trout, but questions remain.
“How much do you give the anglers per fish, or is it for every tagged fish?” Maroney wonders.
With WDFW’s cash register empty, he says the tribe may have to explore grants.
If one thing is certain, it’s that managers are determined to prevent the spread and further illegal introduction of pike in Washington.
The fish can now be found “throughout” the Pend Oreille River and in Box Canyon and Boundary Reservoirs.
Beyond Boundary, the river takes a hard left, is plugged by a pair of BC dams, and then dumps into the Columbia just north of the international border.
“Our immediate concern is predation on native westslope cutthroat and bull trout,” said Baker, “but native salmon, steelhead and other species also could be at risk if pike migrate downstream and establish populations in the Columbia River. We’re also concerned about northern pike populations establishing in other Washington waters.”
Biologists will conduct population-assessment surveys in late April through May to determine the abundance of northern pike and other fish species in Box Canyon.
One survey will be a repeat of 2004’s reservoir-wide netting. It could be yield very important data about the direction all of Box Canyon’s fish stocks are headed.
“Once we get that information back, we’ll know a lot more,” says Bolding.
The meetings are slated for:
6-8 p.m., Tuesday, April 19, at Create Arts Center, 900 W. 4th St., in Newport
6-8 p.m., Wednesday, April 20, at Center Place, 2426 N. Discovery Place, in Spokane Valley