OPINION: FISHERY: Time to rethink management plan for Lake Pend Oreille

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Courtesy photo Chad Landrum of Go Fish! Charters with an Idaho smallmouth. Trained as a fishery biologist, Landrum thinks itís time the Idaho Department of Fish and Game rethinks its fishery management plan for Lake Pend Oreille.

I feel blessed to live in a region with such a good fishery and fishing legacy. I also concede that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) accomplished quite a feat in bringing kokanee back from the brink of collapse.

Nonetheless, as a community member and fishery professional with a strong interest in ecosystem restoration, sustainability and sport fishing, I have a different opinion about the direction IDFG should take in regard to the updated Lake Pend Oreille (LPO) Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

The current attitude that Lake Pend Oreille is first and foremost a salmonid fishery is in need of re-evaluation. Much has changed over the past 70 years and though LPO has a legacy as a salmonid fishery the true wonder of this lake is not that it produces world-class trout, but that it has potential for world-class, multi-species fishing. That said, trout-only management is selling us all short, particularly the warm water fishing community.

There are two basic concepts in restoration ecology that the current FMP is disregarding. The first rule is to not try recreating a snapshot in time because nature is dynamic, and there are too many factors to control. The second rule is that itís better to establish a functionally self-sustaining ecosystem than to rely on financial or biological subsidy.

Regarding the first rule, kokanee and kamloops are both non-native fish that came to the lake in the 20th century. In ecological terms, these fish have only been here for a brief time.

If a reasonable natural resource management agency considered the social, economic and environmental changes that have occurred since the introduction of these species, the agency would at least weigh all of the options before throwing its weight behind one fishery over another.

I wonít highlight all of the changes our region has seen in the last 70 years, but suffice it to say we will never again see the social, economical or environmental landscape of that period.

Nor will we ever see the same fishery that anglers enjoyed shortly after the introductions of kokanee and kamloops. The language of the FMP however still prioritizes re-creating this historic non-native fishery, and it doesnít stop there.

The FMP claims that by managing a kokanee-kamloops fishery they are benefiting native salmonids (west slope cutthroat trout and federally listed bull trout). This is absolutely amazing to me, not only because our native trout evolved in the absence of kokanee and kamloops, but because there is abundant scientific research stating that rainbow trout (a variety of kamloops) are bad for cutthroat trout because they compete for food and hybridize with each other.

Adult kamloops feed almost exclusively on other salmonids, including bull trout and cutthroat trout. Additionally, the widespread decline of our native cutthroat trout occurred in conjunction with the introduction of kokanee, which also compete for the same zooplankton food source.

Furthermore, the current FMP has language stating that in the event of hybridization between non-native rainbow trout and native cutthroat trout, IDFG will re-stock pure strain rainbows, not native cutthroats.

How then is kokanee and kamloop management benefitting our native salmonids? More importantly, why are we paying for it?

Regarding the second rule of ecosystem restoration (to strive for a functional self-sustaining ecosystem that does not require subsidy), the LPO FMP is a curious case. Subsidy in this case has a double meaning. It can be biological input such as stocking or fertilizing, and it can mean money. Regarding the LPO subsidy, itís a lot of money. IDFG gets mitigation dollars from utility companies and federal agencies to offset losses of fisheries due to hydroelectric dam operation and to protect and enhance native fish including bull trout.

Nearly all of this funding comes from either ratepayer or taxpayer funding, so it is essentially public money. IDFG has spent more than $6,000,000 on kokanee recovery on LPO over the last decade, and there is no end in sight to the subsidy.

More impressive than the amount of financial subsidy the LPO fishery requires is that the money is not going to stocking or fertilizing, but to removing sportfish.

There is some evidence that lake trout are bad for bull trout for much the same reason rainbow trout are bad for cutthroat trout. But, sacrificing our world-class lake trout fishery was deemed by IDFG to be an acceptable loss.

For the last 10 years, lake trout have been the primary focus of gamefish removal efforts in LPO. Dr. Mike Hansenís model predicted a total collapse of the lake trout fishery by now (indicating less need for gillnetting), yet IDFG this spring signed a new 10-year non-competitive contract with Hickey Brothers to maintain gillnet effort, and the cost is about double the previous cost.

The lake trout removal budget for the 2018 season is about $500,000. This spring, for an additional cost, IDFG hired Hickey Brothers to test the feasibility of suppressing the LPO walleye fishery. This action raises many questions beyond the scope of this letter, but one should be answered: How many world-class fisheries is the IDFG willing to sacrifice in the name of kokanee and kamloop management?

Since becoming aware of the unique qualities of the LPO fishery, I have advocated for fair and honest science-based management of our entire fishery. If, for instance, our management goal was to protect and enhance only our native fishery, I would be in favor. If our management plan was to protect and enhance all of our fishery I would be in favor. I am not in favor of a management plan that values one non-native sportfish above another. Claiming that our current FMP is native species management is not entirely true, and favoring one gamefish over another is not fair.

Solid, science-based management is about asking the right questions. Considering that our managers are tasked with considering social, economic and environmental impacts of management actions, IDFG has lost my trust. Not only are we spending millions of dollars removing one non-native species in favor of another non-native species, we are not even asking the prudent questions, such as can the fishery reach a balance without invasive measures? What is the economic value of a world-class destination multi-species fishery? What does the local community think?

• ē ē

Chad Landrum is a former fishery biologist who operates Go-Fish Charters on Lake Pend Oreille.

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