Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, state split over Flathead lake trout removal

Sep 20, 2013

Bull Trout are among the native species managers are looking to help by removing non-native lake trout.
Credit flickr/USFWS Headquarters

The Flathead Lake fishery has cultural, ecological, and economic significance for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the south end of the lake, and for the non-tribal land around the north end. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Tribes have been co-managing the lake, but disagree over the best way to discourage non-native lake trout dominance over native trout.  

The Tribes recently approved the most aggressive alternative for lake trout suppression identified in their draft environmental impact statement. This alternative allows for reducing the lake trout population by up to 75-percent.

Manager for the CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Tom McDonald said it continues to focus on angling pressure through things like the fall and spring Mack Days competitions, but brings in other management tools including netting.

He said Mack Days has been very successful. But it started more than 10-years ago, and he said it’s not enough.

“We spent the last 12 years working on this, and unfortunately we haven’t seen the results from our efforts. So, it didn’t make any sense to continue doing Mack Days if we’re not reducing the lake trout population. It’s a form of craziness if we keep spending our money and not getting our response that we’re trying to work for,” McDonald said.

The Tribes believe it’s time to increase the pressure on the lake trout.

Regional Fisheries Manager Jim Vashro with Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the co-management plan identifies what’s called secure levels of Bull Trout, and the population numbers are still 50-percent above those levels. He said the state would like to see a few more years to gauge how the increased angling pressure plays out before pursuing more aggressive options.

Vashro said the state agrees with the Tribes in wanting to see better bull trout numbers, but is concerned that more aggressive measures will destabilize the population and make bull trout numbers drop even lower.

“The other problem is that lake trout are the primary sport fishery left in Flathead Lake, and if doing this is going to reducing that sport fishing potential a great deal, you want to be sure that you’re getting some benefits to native fish in return for that, and we think there’s a lot of uncertainty in what these proposals hold,” Vashro said.

The Tribes will continue holding Mack Days with the fall competition starting up the first Friday of October. They are working on the final environmental assessment which includes comments from the public, and the state. It goes before the Bureau of Indian Affairs for final approval and the plan could take effect by 2014.