Plummer, Idaho - The Coeur d’Alene Tribe Fisheries Program and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will hold a public meeting in Plummer on Tuesday, March 26 to discuss a new project designed to reduce northern pike abundance in the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The project goal is to boost survival of native lake-run cutthroat trout by reducing predation from northern pike. The project will be funded and conducted by the Tribe while Fish and Game biologists will assist with monitoring project results.
The plan will involve removing northern pike using gill nets in Benewah, Chatcolet, Round, and Hidden Lakes. Spring netting will occur following ice-out until May 24 and will target places where northern pike congregate to spawn. Netting will only occur on weekdays and be suspended during the period between Memorial Day and October 1 to minimize conflict with recreational users. Netting will also occur during October, with an emphasis on monitoring the population response to removals. Jon Firehammer, Fisheries Research Biologist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, says that this early and late season strategy coupled with targeting specific areas in the lake for pike removal will limit the impacts to other fish.
At the meeting, biologists will present project plans in more detail. In addition, they will describe multiple research projects completed over the past several years that laid the groundwork for northern pike removal. These include a University of Idaho study that evaluated northern pike predation on cutthroat trout in Benewah Lake and a reward program that paid anglers to harvest northern pike to gain information on their distribution, movement, and abundance.
Similar methods have been used by the Tribe and Fish and Game to suppress northern pike in Windy Bay since 2015. “We have learned from our efforts in Windy Bay that pike can be maintained at low densities in a localized area to minimize predation on a species of conservation interest like cutthroat trout. Early results suggest that cutthroat from Lake Creek are surviving better so we are hopeful that a similar approach will benefit the struggling cutthroat trout population in Benewah Creek”, said Andy Dux, Regional Fishery Manager for Fish and Game. Dux added that while Fish and Game supports testing whether localized northern pike removal will benefit cutthroat trout survival in the southern end of the lake, it will be critical that fishing for other species is not negatively impacted, such as the popular largemouth bass fishery. Measures will be taken to minimize bycatch of species other than northern pike and the bass population will be monitored simultaneously.
“The strategy we are undertaking in the southern lake will be done at a larger scale than what we have been working on in Windy Bay, so we know there will be challenges. But this is really about the need for finding a better balance within the fish community that allows cutthroat to thrive in the lake,” said Angelo Vitale, Fisheries Program Manager with the Tribe. Vitale added, “after working for several decades to address habitat deficiencies in the watershed and not seeing migratory cutthroat respond as anticipated, we understand that a serious survival bottleneck exists in the lake that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive recovery program.” In coming years, the Tribe will evaluate the effectiveness of the program by monitoring the survival of juvenile cutthroat trout and the number of adults that return to spawn in Benewah Creek.
"The intent is to strategically target a small part of the lake where suppression of northern pike can provide the greatest benefit to native cutthroat trout" said Vitale.
In 2017, the Tribe and Fish and Game conducted a public opinion survey of Lake Coeur d’Alene anglers. Survey results showed strong public support for northern pike suppression in Windy Bay. In addition, there was a similar level of support for localized suppression elsewhere in the lake if efforts in Windy Bay showed promise for improving cutthroat trout abundance. “The majority of anglers were supportive of this type of work and the intent is to strategically target a small part of the lake where suppression of northern pike can provide the greatest benefit to native cutthroat trout,” said Vitale.
The meeting will take place Tuesday, March 26 from 6pm to 7:30pm at the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Wellness Center located at 1100 A Street in Plummer.