*For anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time has come to put up with a few conservation minded posts that have been of my opinion alone. Through the Outdoor Blogger Network, I came across this recent conservation post about Flathead Lake and how the introduction of non-native lake trout has impacted the fishery, and thought it worthwhile to repost it on "Up the Poudre".
The following is a guest post by Chris Schustrom and Bruce Farling. The two Trout Unlimited officials in Montana are working to protect native west slope cutthroat trout and bull trout in the Flathead Lake watershed. This opinion piece is available for posting at The Outdoor Blogger Network.
Flathead Lake fishery collapsing thanks to non-native lake trout
By Chris Schustrom and Bruce Farling
|West slope Cutthroat trout|
Flathead Lake once hosted one of Montana’s most popular and robust sport fisheries, featuring millions of kokanee salmon, cutthroats, yellow perch, bull trout and lake trout. Today, the salmon are gone and cutthroat and bull trout numbers have been reduced dramatically. Also gone are many fishermen. Perch and lake whitefish remain, but their availability fluctuates year to year, depending on water levels and predation. Well-meaning state managers who introduced Mysis shrimp into the Flathead system in the 1980s triggered the decline in the lake’s fishery and fishing opportunities. The shrimp provide an ample food source for young lake trout, improving their survival rates. Once these lake trout get larger they feed on other fish. In the nineties the exploding lake trout population consumed about 10 million kokanee in Flathead Lake, collapsing perhaps the most popular lake fishery in the state. Angling numbers then dropped by about 50 percent. When the kokanee disappeared, so did hundreds of bald eagles that gathered each fall to gorge on spawning salmon at McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. Thousands of tourists then stopped coming to view the eagles. Tourism dollars dropped.
|The culprit ... introduced non-native lake trout|
The near monoculture of lake trout in Flathead Lake threatens the future of sportfishing in the upper Flathead basin. The tribes, however, are addressing this challenge head-on. They are evaluating tools, including maintaining fishing tourneys coupled with limited and scientifically based netting, that can reduce the lake trout population to a reasonable number. This could reduce predation and benefit native bull and cutthroat trout, as well as other sportfish such as perch and lake whitefish. It would also still maintain a lake trout fishery for the minority of anglers who can afford powerboats and the specialized gear it takes to pursue them. Despite the fears of the small cadre of commercial charter operators who fish for lake trout, it would be impossible to eliminate their favored fish from Flathead Lake.
Without new approaches at Flathead Lake, bull trout and cutthroat trout will eventually be reduced to a tiny fraction of their historical numbers, or even extirpated. Without new approaches, angling opportunities and the economic benefits they generate, will continue to dwindle. Without trying, and instead turning the lake and river over to lake trout, we will be judged harshly by future Montanans who will never feel the tug of a large cutthroat on their line at Flathead Lake.
Bruce Farling is the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. Chris Schustrom is the president of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.