Wildlife agency to fight spread of northern pike

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — State wildlife officials will ask fishermen to help control the advance of northern pike toward the Columbia River.

Fishery managers in the next few months plan to enlist anglers to remove as many northern pike as possible from the Pend Oreille River, which is the route the voracious species is following from Idaho and Montana. Studies conducted with the Kalispel Tribe and Eastern Washington University show a dramatic decline in native minnows, largemouth bass, yellow perch and other fish species that inhabit the 55-mile Box Canyon Reservoir.

Fish managers have traced the movement of northern pike into the Pend Oreille River from rivers in Montana, where they were stocked illegally. Last spring, Canadian anglers reported catching them in the Columbia River near its confluence with the Pend Oreille, just north of the border between Washington state 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’re increasingly concerned about future impacts to native trout and other species, including salmon and steelhead.”

“That’s a big concern,” Whalen said. “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 a major line of defense, Whalen said. There are no daily catch limits or size limits on northern pike in Washington state, he said.

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.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission was scheduled to take action on those proposals at a public meeting Feb. 3-4 in Olympia.