History was in the making when Columbia Basin Trust hosted the first trans-boundary collaboration effort that dealt exclusively with the spread of the invasive northern pike in the Columbia River.
The Monday meeting in Castlegar brought together close to 20 organizations from the United States and Canada and was held in conjunction with a recent Amec Foster Wheeler report, “Northern Pike Suppression in the Columbia River,” that summarized and updated strategies implemented by fisheries managers in southern BC, Idaho, and Washington State.
The genesis of the collaboration came from a meeting in the summer of 2016 when “Various agencies, researchers and stakeholders met to share information and discuss efforts underway to control the northern pike,” read the report.
“They identified a need for data synthesis and identification of knowledge gaps to help inform future management and suppression.”
Representatives from the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT), the Spokane Tribe of Indians (STOI), and Kalispel Tribe of Indians joined the Okanagan Nation Alliance, BC Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resources (FLNRO), Salmo Streamkeepers, Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society, Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission, Castlegar Wildlife Ass., researchers from Golder Associates, Thompson Rivers University and Mountain Water Research, and industry professionals from Columbia Power Corp, Teck, and BC Hydro.
Northern Pike Status:
While a very successful suppression effort by the Kalispell Tribe of Indians removed over 17,000 pike from the Box Canyon Reservoir of the Pend Oreille River from 2012 to the present, their spread into the Columbia River was inevitable.
Pike first appeared in the Columbia between the Hugh Keenleyside Dam and the Canada-US border south of Trail in 2010 and suppression efforts using gill nets has reduced populations from a peak of 133 pike in 2014 to 49 captured in 2016, largely in the Robson Reach area of the Columbia. The northern pike’s numbers remain low with only a handful (4) captured during a week of suppression netting by Mountain Water Research last month.
However, microchemistry studies on otoliths (ear bones) by Thompson Rivers University Masters student Dan Doutaz revealed that pike were indeed recruiting (spawning) in the Columbia.
And, as many predicted, south of the border the northern pike population exploded in the Lake Roosevelt Reservoir in Washington State this past year.
In the spring of 2016, 114 pike were taken by the WDFW in a gill-netting suppression effort over 16 weeks that included a large number of one- and two-year-old juveniles (21), suggesting pike are recruiting in the reservoir.
In August, 2016, 100 juvenile pike were caught using electrofishing surveys by the Confederated Colville Tribes (CCT) in shallow bays of the Kettle River, and in October the Spokane Tribe of Indians removed 800 pike during targeted electro-fishing surveys and another 150 in a white sturgeon study in shallow water less than 50 cm. and averaging almost 50 pike per hour.
Most recently, in February and March, over 700 were netted ranging in size from 12 to 42 inches and averaging 17 inches and two pounds per fish.
In response, starting May 1, the CCT put a $10 bounty on the head of the apex predator and encourage anglers to deliver the heads to one of the two collection stations near Kettle Falls.
“They eat everything,” Holly McLellan, principal fish biologist for the CCT told NW Council’s John Harrison. “The reward program involves anglers as co-managers to protect the Lake Roosevelt ecosystem. We need their help to stop the spread of northern pike. We hope the reward program will incentivize anglers to kill the pike they catch instead of releasing them back into the lake.”
Northern pike are prolific spawners, and have grown faster and larger in the Roosevelt system than the Pend Oreille given the available food source and ample space in the 240-kilometre long reservoir.
The effort of the Kalispell, Colville, Spokane Tribes and the WDFW is now concentrated on suppressing the pike population to prevent its spread below Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams to even more pike-friendly habitat, where the predator would undoubtedly threaten endangered species-listed salmon and steelhead. Furthermore, the proliferation of pike in Lake Roosevelt water also hinders the groups’ attempts to one day return the salmon run beyond the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams and into the Upper Columbia.
“We need to stop pike from moving downstream now,” McLellan said. “The population will keep expanding if we are not aggressive enough with the removal.”
The CCT and STOI will jointly run a juvenile suppression program for fall 2017 using boat electrofishing as well as gillnets in Lake Roosevelt.