A history of Flathead Lake Co-Management

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(I submitted this OP-ED piece to several newsapapers…none chose to run it…)

 

The Flathead Lake co-management plan, was designed to cover a 10 year period from 2001-2010. It was a plan to help recover native fish populations that had been determined to be on a course of possible disappearance, to analyze and manage lake trout populations and to serve as a blue print for decisions to maintain the sport fishery.  It went through an extensive public scoping and citizen advisory process, where over 90 percent of respondents indicated a “go slow” approach was the proper method. Aggressive methods to quickly reduce lake trout populations were met with a resounding NO!

Through this process, it was determined that while, in the immediate “post Mysis shrimp introduction” period, lake trout numbers DID explode, and bull trout populations did plummet.  But as time went by, the data started to show that the situation began to correct itself.

In fact, by the mid-period reviews, the bull trout populations had stabilized (see FWP population estimates) and the lake trout populations began to decrease.  The “go slow” approach had indeed been the proper course of action and the results were showing that to be true. Yet the approach to management continued as if just the opposite was happening…

The Mack Days tournaments (the plans main tool to reduce lake trout) were expanded, lake trout limits in Flathead Lake went from 25 to 50, and then to the 100 fish limit we have today.  Major efforts to promote the stance that “bull trout were on the verge of extinction” continued, Montana Trout Unlimited became one of the most vocal groups supporting a more aggressive approach, presentations using carefully selected  “data” were offered and quotes like “bull trout are about to blink out” proliferated.

An FWP official that stood up to the tribes efforts to continue to decimate the sport fishery found himself  “retired”  soon after his statements were made public and eventually our local managers were told they couldn’t even discuss the issue, all info had to come and go through Helena.

A letter from a top FWP official, supporting a “gill netting pilot project” created a firestorm of discontent, yet was explained away as being taken out of context. Press releases were issued retracting that support and public meetings were held where anglers outraged at this project again reiterated an opposition to gill netting. The project was ‘withdrawn” and in the waning months, eventually the plan expired, without much fanfare.

All the while, and it continues today, the CSKT continued planning to take a substantially more aggressive approach to killing lake trout, under the guise of continuing  to “save” a native fish population that has and continues to recover quite successfully.  I D teams were developed, alternatives discussed, yet nothing has been publicly shared for almost two years.

Recently, after FWP suddenly announced they had withdrawn from further attempts to gain BPA mitigation funds, for very acceptable reasons, a top CSKT official was quoted as saying:  “in the absence of a new agreement, the terms of the old one remain in place”

This would be somewhat acceptable IF those “terms” were being followed… and had they been followed during the original period.  Unfortunately, since the mid-period review, the process that was to be followed when bull trout stabilized (or even increased) and lake trout stabilized (or even decreased) has been subverted from “re-evaluate goals and objectives” and “continue current management” to a plan of annihilating upwards of 96 percent of the catchable lake trout populations!  (The CSKT supported alternative)

To quote again from the expired 10 year plan “In general, there is little public support for commercial fishing for or agency netting of lake trout. However these strategies may be reviewed and implemented if native trout populations drop to dangerously low levels or if they are needed to achieve native trout goals after all other techniques are exhausted.”

It is obvious to me that, despite bull trout recovery and increasing populations, the CSKT continues to pursue the most aggressive lake trout removal tactics.  When will the people of Montana stand up and say enough is enough?  I say it starts here.   Please let your opinion be known to…BPA, FWP, Trout Unlimited and the CSKT. Also, let your local paper (where you are most likely reading this) know and then go take a kid fishing…you’ve earned it!