OLYMPIA – Tribal, state and local governments joined forces on Lake Roosevelt last week to combat the spread of northern pike.
The invasive fish recently were recorded just two dams away from critical Columbia River salmon habitat.
The lake’s co-managers with the Colville Confederated Tribes, Spokane Tribe and state Department of Fish and Wildlife worked with the Kalispel Tribe and public utility districts in Chelan and Grant Counties May 6-10 to catch northern pike in the largest coordinated suppression event of its kind, said the agencies.
“We are at a critical moment in time where northern pike have not spread into salmon habitat,” said Kelly Susewind, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “If northern pike move downstream, the State of Washington will consider this an environmental emergency. We need to work together to stop northern pike.”
Northern pike is a prohibited, invasive species that preys on fish such as trout, salmon and steelhead, plus other wildlife such as ducks and bats — and even on other northern pike. Since being illegally introduced in the 1990s, the species has spread down the Pend Oreille River into Lake Roosevelt.
Moving down the Columbia River would put billions of dollars in salmon and steelhead recovery investments and tribal, sport and commercial fishing at risk, said the three lake managers.
In Alaska and California, northern pike have reduced fish populations by as little as 10 percent to effectively crashing entire fisheries.
“Northern pike threaten years of progress to recover salmon,” said Phil Rockefeller, chairman of the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “The same upper Columbia River tribes that lost access to salmon with the construction of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams are stepping forward as leaders in stopping northern pike.
“We applaud the upper Columbia River tribes and other partners for their work to stop northern pike and to keep the entire Columbia River safe for salmon.”
The week-long event built on previous suppression work led by the Spokane and Colville tribes, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Colvilles have had a bounty on northern pike for several years.
“We have been cooperatively working to slow or stop the spread of northern pike, but realize they are poised to continue downstream,” said Brent Nichols, division director of the Spokane tribe’s fisheries and water resource division. “One of the tools in our toolbox is this all-hands-on-deck approach, working with other partners who care about the Columbia River ecosystem.”
Lake Roosevelt co-managers encourage anglers who catch northern pike to turn them in to collection stations for a $10-a-head bounty.
Anglers fishing downstream of the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams are asked to kill the fish immediately and report their presence to the Washington Invasive Species Council.
“It’s only a matter of time before northern pike move below the dams,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the council. “By coming together, we can prepare for that and hopefully stop their spread immediately, before they damage fishing, our economy and our way of life.
“We need everyone to find and report invasive species. By being alert and reporting any species that you think might be out of place or a problem, you might be saving us millions in management costs and protecting billions in economic and environmental damages and loss.”
Established by the Legislature in 2006, the Invasive Species Council provides policy-level direction, planning and coordination for combating harmful invasive species and preventing the introduction of others that may be harmful.