Kokanee rebound in Priest Lake

Question:

According to historical stocking data, Kokanee have not been stocked in Priest Lake since 1989. Just recently their population has grown enough to allow for retention. Would it be safe to assume that they have made a rebound on their own? From reports on your site, netting predatory fish (Lake Trout) to reduce their numbers and boost the Kokanee, Cutthroat and Bull Trout has had little to no success as their numbers are not decreasing. However it sounds like the net/strobe light in the thoroughfare to Upper Priest Lake is producing better results. I think it would be fair to say that Priest Lake is such a popular fishery due to it's ability to produce large trophy Lake Trout and good number of eating size fish as well. if Kokanee populations kept increasing it would be even better. Has F&G has ever considered using funds that have been allocated to suppress Lake Trout populations into perhaps reducing other predatory fish such as the Small Mouth Bass? Hayden Lake would be one example where they have made a huge impact, since their introduction in the 80"s where only a few hundred were stocked, they are now the #1 species in that lake by volume. They are fun to catch, but i'm sure they do their part as well...

Answer:

Below is a summary of the management planning process for Priest Lake.  I believe it answers most of your questions along wtih some others you may have.  if you'd care to discuss Priest Lake management further, please feel free to give me a call at (208) 769-1414.

thank you for your interest.

Jim Fredericks, Regional Fishery Manager. 

The future management of the Priest Lake fishery has been a hot topic of discussion over the past two years.  In short, some anglers have advocated a program to minimize the lake trout population in favor of more abundant kokanee, cutthroat, and bull trout populations.  Why, they ask, has IDFG “written off” Priest Lake yet put so much effort into restoring the historical Lake Pend Oreille fishery?  Others value the existing lake trout fishery and want to see it maintained.  Why, they ask, would IDFG consider messing with a fishery that’s working just fine the way it is?

Complicating the matter is the link between Priest and Upper Priest lakes.  Upper Priest Lake still supports an abundant cutthroat population and a healthy population of bull trout.  The “simple” solution would be to maintain the native fish populations in the upper lake.   Unfortunately, the ability for lake trout to pass freely between lakes through the Thorofare makes separate management strategies for the two lakes anything but simple.  Preventing lake trout from taking over the upper lake has taken an intensive 15-year annual suppression effort.  The program amounts to a “finger in the dike” approach that is simply unsustainable.  
As managers of a resource that belongs to all of the people of Idaho, IDFG is charged with making a decision that will ultimately provide the greatest benefits to the majority over the long term.  That’s more easily said than done.  Not only is the public split on what they perceive as providing the greatest benefits, but there is still a lot we don't know about the ecology of the lake’s fisheries.    Before we can make long-term management decision, we all need a better understanding of the social, economic, and biological consequences of the alternatives. 

Recognizing that, the recently completed 2013-18 State Fishery Management Plan directs IDFG to use the next few years to gain a better understanding of how the fishery in Priest Lake is functioning.  At the same time, the plan recommends engaging a diverse group of stakeholders to provide input from a range of perspectives.  The biological information and the stakeholder group will be used together to help guide development of a more informed, long-term management plan for both lakes.  

One of the most important pieces of information needed for long-range planning is a better understanding of lake trout.   Beginning in 2013, with funding from the Kalispel Tribe, we initiated a 2-year cooperative project with the University of Idaho to conduct a comprehensive population assessment.  The study will provide information on the number of lake trout in Priest Lake, as well as key characteristics such as growth and survival rates, food habits and harvest rates.  Last spring researchers used large-scale commercial netting equipment, similar to that being used in Lake Pend Oreille, to capture trout for the population estimate.  Fish were measured and marked with an individually numbered tag. 

In total, just over four thousand lake trout were handled, and nearly three thousand of those were tagged and released.  The incidental catch of other species was very low.  We captured 3 bull trout, 1 kokanee, 95 suckers, 11 whitefish, and 22 pikeminnow—all of which were released alive. The project represents the first comprehensive assessment of the lake trout population on Priest Lake – ever!  Not only will it give us a better understanding of population characteristics, an outgrowth of the assessment will be a better understanding of the impacts of “barotrauma” — the over-expanded swim bladder lake trout often get when pulled from 100-150 feet of water by nets or anglers.  The university researchers are using a variety of methods to estimate survival rates based on degree of barotrauma as well as methods of treatment.  These are all extremely valuable pieces of information regardless of how the population will be managed in the long term. 
 

There are now over 3-thousand lake trout tagged in Priest Lake.  Each of those tags is labeled with an individual number as well as a toll-free telephone number.  By returning these tags, anglers will help us understand harvest and survival rates as well as total population size. Perhaps more importantly, anglers can stay informed as we collect new information and work with the advisory group to make a decision in the coming years.  Looking at facts as we learn them, and listening to the perspectives and values of others will help everyone involved appreciate the challenges associated with developing and implementing a long-term management plan.  Tuning out the conversation, and then complaining after the fact accomplishes little.

As we gather new information in the coming years, we will continue to provide periodic updates via e-mail, and share information at public meetings.  For a more personal discussion, I always  welcome folks to call or come by the office.