“Exploratory netting” for walleye at American Lake late last week turned up bass and perch instead, but WDFW says monitoring will continue for the species that could only have been illegally introduced here by bucket biologists.
Kenny Behen, the agency’s warmwater species manager, says an angler reported observing a walleye at the 1,100-acre JBLM-area lake in the middle of last week, so crews set nets over two evenings in the area of the sighting and where the species is likely to concentrate at this time of year, which is the spawning season.
He says he believes the report was made in earnest and that WDFW is “doing our due diligence to investigate and corroborate the details.”
The netting turned up what state managers otherwise expected to catch at American based on past surveys – “yellow perch and some smallmouth bass, which were returned alive following netting,” according to Behen.
Going forward, he says the plan is to periodically monitor the lake this spring and fall as water temperatures spur fish movements.
Walleye are not native to Western Washington, let alone the Evergreen State, but strong numbers are found in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and other reservoirs east of the Cascades.
They support a thriving trophy and harvest fishery there, but prodding from federal overseers and state legislators concerned about predation by walleye (and other nonnative species) on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead smolts led WDFW to lift limits on the big rivers and other anadromous waters of the state.
American Lake doesn’t appear to be connected to salmon-bearing streams, but the walleye observation is still depressing for fishery managers and conscientious, law-abiding anglers.
“American Lake is managed for smallmouth bass and kokanee, and any presence of walleye there is without a doubt the result of illegal introduction and would likely be detrimental to both of those fisheries,” says Behen. “Illegal introduction of any species into a body of water, whether intentional or simply out of ignorance, can have profound impacts on local ecosystems and how the lake is managed, and could also carry legal consequences for the person responsible for the introduction.”
According to WDFW’s Allen Pleus, transporting and releasing a regulated species such as walleye is a gross misdemeanor, and along with criminal penalties, bucket biologists may also find themselves on the hook to “pay all costs in capturing, killing, or controlling the invasive species, including its progeny.”
There may not be many examples of that actually happening, but the actions of selfish anglers can lead to a whole other level of blowback, as we’ve seen in recent years.
After WDFW netted a half dozen walleye in Lake Washington, including a 13.5-pound female said to be ready to spawn, the Muckleshoot Tribe – which considered the introduction to be “criminal” – began a series of warmwater test fisheries, initially on Washington, then focused on Lake Sammamish, to gauge the waters’ predator fish populations.
They’ve also caught at least three northern pike, a prohibited species, in Lake Washington, including two last March.
And this month and next, plans call for a commercial fishery in the north half of the lake targeting warmwater species.
Way to go, dumbasses.
Ironically, the report of walleye at American Lake follows on late February’s Invasive Species Awareness Week, a special state focus on unwanted fish, insects, mammals and other lifeforms that “threaten our recreation, wildlife, land and water,” according to WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. Walleye are considered a game fish, although a few years ago some state lawmakers tried to declassify them.