By RALPH BARTHOLDT
The results from surveys sent to Washington and North Idaho residents earlier this month could tip the scales on how the Priest Lake fishery is managed in the future.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game sent about 4,500 surveys to license holders in Idaho’s five northern counties, 500 to anglers in northeast Washington counties and more than 10,000 emails seeking comment on whether the fishery in Priest Lake should be managed for kokanee, cutthroat trout and bull trout, or for lake trout.
Fisheries manager Andy Dux said the large effort is an attempt to make sure the department does what anglers want.
“We’re putting a lot of energy into it because Priest Lake is one of the high profile, popular fisheries in the region,” Dux said.
The survey asks for anglers to choose from three options including managing the lake for lake trout — also called mackinaw, or two varieties of management that would suppress lake trout in favor of kokanee, and catch-and-release cutthroat trout and bull trout fisheries.
Dux said the two objectives that exclude lake trout are meant to bring back once popular fisheries in the lake, including a non-native kokanee fishery, and two catch-and-release fisheries for cutthroat and bull trout.
Lake trout were introduced in the lake in the 1920s and flourished years later after mysis shrimp were introduced in the lake. The shrimp were supposed to bolster the kokanee fishery, but instead competed for food with immature kokanee, resulting in the stunting of the kokanee — or blueback — population.
Under present lake management, Idaho Fish and Game nets and kills mackinaw in Upper Priest Lake to allow bull trout to grow there. Bull trout don’t exist in the main lake because of lake trout, Dux said.
Critics of the department’s lake trout suppression efforts, ongoing over the past several years, argue the lake is self-sustaining and already provides the only trophy lake trout fishery in the Northwest, in addition to a rebounding kokanee fishery, and a catch-and-release cutthroat trout fishery.
But having lake trout in the main lake limits the ability for other species to fully rebound, Dux said.
An advisory board of lake stakeholders formed by Fish and Game presented anglers with the three options. Board member Kristy Huling of Oldtown said, from her five-year experience on the advisory board she supports critics of lake trout suppression.
“I think they should leave the lake alone,” Huling said.
The results of a recent Fish and Game survey saw many anglers supporting lake trout suppression in favor of managing the other species. Alan Greenway, of Caldwell, wasn’t among them. Greenway travels twice a year to Priest Lake to fill coolers full of 5-pound fish.
He contends the mackinaw, which feed almost solely on mysis shrimp, are helping the kokanee fishery make a comeback. The mysis shrimp make the mackinaw meat red and palatable, he said.
“Good eating mackinaw come out of that lake,” Greenway said. “You want to leave that alone.”
Fish and Game asks that anyone who wants to participate in the survey to fill out and return the surveys by Dec. 10. Results should be compiled and published by early next year.
Surveys are also available at idfg.idaho.gov.