Rainbow trout rule changes proposed

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SANDPOINT — Time is running out to comment on the Idaho Department of Fish & Game’s plans to implement more restrictive rainbow trout regulations and restore a limited kokanee fishery on Lake Pend Oreille.

The deadline to comment on the proposed rule changes is Sept. 30.

The current regulation — unlimited rainbow trout harvest and a $15 incentive — would be replaced with a six-day daily trout limit with no cash incentive. The new rules would also allow only one rainbow trout over 20 inches.

Although the angler incentive program would end for rainbow trout, it would resume for lake trout.

Jim Fredericks, Panhandle region fisheries manager, acknowledges that the rule changes aren’t the “ultimate trophy regulation” for the lake, but it’s a big step in that direction.

Efforts to suppress lake trout began in 2006 and are paying off.

“We’re certainly not saying the battle is over, but thanks to everyone involved, we’ve come a very long way in the past six years,” said Fredericks. “We are now at a point where we can start to rebuild the trophy rainbow trout fishery and provide limited kokanee harvest.”

The proposed kokanee limit will also be six fish.

“We aren’t talking about a return to the heyday of 25 or 50 fish, but even so it would be great to see people out trolling for kokanee again,” said Fredericks.

The lake’s kokanee population has been steadily increasing since 2007, when it was at an all-time low. The population is now at a higher level than when it was when kokanee were closed to harvest in 2000, according to Andy Dux, a Fish & Game biologist heading up the research program.

As long as kokanee numbers continue to ascend, the population is capable of supporting a fishery, Dux said.

Another main topic in the rule-change effort involves the management of Priest and Upper Priest lakes. Priest Lake is being managed as a lake trout fishery, whereas Upper Priest is managed to maintain the native bull trout and cutthroat trout populations through active lake trout suppression.

Due to the extent of the extent of the lake trout movement between the two lakes, Fredericks said managing the two as separate systems is no longer a practical, long-term solution.

Abandoning efforts to maintain the native fish community in Upper Priest Lake or trying to restore a kokanee, bull trout and cutthroat fishery in both lakes through a lake trout suppression efforts has drawn mixed reviews from anglers.

Although the lake trout fishery is very popular with some, others have little interest in lakers and welcome the prospect of a more diverse fishery, Fredericks said.

“In short, people were divided almost right down the middle,” he said.

Compounding the problem is the fact that biologists don’t have a clear picture of lake trout and kokanee populations in Priest Lake are interacting right now.

“Given the split public response — coupled with questions about factors controlling the kokanee population, lake trout diet and growth, angler harvest rates and potential funding — it would be premature to make a decision about the long-term management of Priest Lake right now,” said Fredericks.

As a result, the department plans on using the 2013-2018 planning period to collect necessary data to gain a better understanding population dynamics and ecology of Priest Lake. A stakeholders group will also be formed to help guide long-term management plans for Priest and Upper Priest lakes.

The draft fisheries management plan can be viewed online: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov

How to weigh in

Anglers who have thoughts on proposed rule changes can send their remarks to Idaho Fish & Game via these methods:

• Call: (208) 769-1414

• Email: jim.fredericks@idfg.idaho.gov

• Mail: 2885 West Kathleen Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID. 83815

• In person: at the address above

• Online: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov

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