Wanted: fishermen put a dent in pike epidemic

Pend Oreille River targetedWashington state wildlife officials will ask anglers to help control the advance of voracious and predatory northern pike toward the Columbia River.In a story from the Associated Press, fishery managers in the next few months plan to enlist fishermen to remove as many of the northern pike as possible from the Pend Oreille River, the route the species is following from Idaho and Montana.Studies conducted with the Kalispell Tribe of Pend Oreille County and Eastern Washington University show a dramatic decline in native minnows, large-mouth bass, yellow perch and other fish species that inhabit the 55-mile Box Canyon Reservoir.Fish biologists have traced the movement of northern pike into the Pend Oreille River from rivers in Montana, where they were stocked illegally, according to the AP story.Last spring, Canadian anglers reported catching them in the Columbia River near its confluence with the Pend Oreille River, just north of the border between Washington and British Columbia.“Non-native northern pike are high impact predators of many other fish,” said John Whalen of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We are increasingly concerned about future impacts to native trout and other species, including salmon and steelhead.“That’s a big concern. If northern pike start spreading down the Columbia River, they could create significant ecological and economic damage.”Earlier this year, the department held public meetings in Spokane and Newport to discuss options for controlling northern pike.Regardless of what other methods are used, anglers represent the major line of defense, Whalen figured. There are no daily catch limits on northern pike in Washington state.The agency proposed changing fishing regulations to allow anglers to fish with two poles in the Pend Oreille River. The department also proposed stripping the northern pike from its designation as a “game fish,” while continuing to classify it as a “prohibited species” that cannot lawfully be transported to state waters.“Anglers could keep fishing for them, but the change in designation would signal that the priority is to control the spread of northern pike and their impact on native fish species,” Whalen said.