Kootenay Lake fishery at risk, says BC Wildlife Federation
BC Wildlife Federation warns Kootenay Lake ecosystem is “out of balance” and calls for aggressive provincial action to revive iconic kokanee salmon stocks.
“I have worked on this lake for almost 50 years and have never seen anything like it,” said Harvey Andrusak, biologist and former president of the BC Wildlife Federation. CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker.
“The public needs to realize that the government is not doing its job.”
Andrusak, who once worked as the director of southeastern British Columbia fisheries in the provincial Department of the Environment, says Kootenay Lake was once teeming with kokanee – over a million spawning fish a year – but only about 10,000 are left.
A ministry update released in January shows that estimated kokanee populations have fluctuated widely over the past decade, from 1.25 million in 2012 to a low of 12,000 in 2019, to 90,000 in 2020.
Andrusak says this is proof that the Kootenay Lake ecosystem is out of balance.
“Basically the predators, which are the rainbow and bull trout, ate all the kokanee. That’s the simple explanation,” he said.
“Predators outnumber the kokanee.”
The root cause of the Kokanee collapse unclear
This is a problem that has confused kokanee populations throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The Kokanee, a subspecies of sockeye salmon, do not migrate to the sea, but rather spend their entire lives in freshwater lakes and rivers.
In recent decades, fish have thrived in some lakes, crashed in others.
The root cause of the exploding lake trout populations and the decline of the Kokanee stock remains a subject of scientific debate, but research has highlighted factors such as pollution, lake levels, habitat loss and climate change as risk factors in some regions.
Andrusak says that whatever the cause, the BC government has a responsibility to act.
“We have known about this problem for almost 10 years … 10 years later, we have not moved the needle at all in terms of increasing the number of kokanee. And the government’s inaction on this is simply unacceptable. “, did he declare.
Andrusak mentions programs in other jurisdictions, such as Idaho, that have stabilized populations through massive planting of kokanee eggs and aggressive reductions in trout.
“In doing so, in six years, they reclaimed the lake,” he said.
The province defends its management strategy
The British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, which is responsible for the management of kokanee, highlights a number of efforts to rebuild the stocks, including a new program to fishing incentive to stimulate the lake trout harvest.
“It was a great success (…) with over 11,000 fish enrolled in the program and an overall increase in the total harvest of 60-85% over the previous year,” the ministry said in a written statement. To Radio-Canada News.
“We will continue to work with the [B.C. Wildlife Federation], local First Nations and other partners to improve the performance of kokanee recovery actions. ”
In 2016, the ministry planted over half a million kokanee eggs in Kootenay Lake spawning grounds and reported a 90% hatch rate.
The government says the recovery will take time.
Andrusak argues that it is too little, too late: Sport fishermen are now fishing elsewhere because the imbalance has also resulted in a shortage of trophy trout.
“Due to so few kokanee available, the size and condition of rainbow trout and bull trout have dramatically declined to the point that anglers are discouraged from fishing the lake. . “
Kootenay Lake is a destination for anglers looking to catch the popular “Gerrard Giant” lake trout.
The ministry admits that participation in its program is down from last year and encourages local fishermen to cast their lines.
Provincial biologists will re-count the kokanee population at the gates along the Meadow Creek spawning channel at the north end of Kootenay Lake over the next four weeks.
Dawn South6:37Kokanee salmon stocks dwindle in Kootenay Lake, wildlife experts urge B.C. government to act before it’s too late