IDFG plans public meetings to set rules, establish fishery goals for region

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Ryan Hardy, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a Kootenai River burbot that was measured and returned to the water as part of a fishery survey. The department will begin gathering input at several public meetings this spring in an effort to draft its latest fishery management plan that could include a burbot fishery. Courtesy photo

Ling cod, or burbot, once a Kootenai River fishery staple, could return to the list of fish targeted by anglers if the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission opts to adopt a burbot fishery as part of an upcoming fishery management plan.

So far, no plan has been drafted, but Idaho Fish and Game plans to meet with the public this spring to field requests, answer questions and hammer out a regional fishery plan that will last from 2019 to 2024, and could include a burbot fishery.

The plan helps fishery managers set program priorities and establish sport fishing and conservation goals, Andy Dux, fishery manager for the Panhandle, said.

Burbot, a freshwater cod indigenous to the Kootenai River, was in trouble for a while, but populations have bounced back enough for Fish and Game to consider allowing anglers to catch and keep the fish.

“It’s something we’re going to propose and get public feedback on,” Dux said.

Burbot were once heavily targeted on the Kootenai River, Dux said.

Although the fish are fairly common in large portions of their range, the Kootenai population bottomed out in the early 1990s, according to IDFG.

The bottom-dwelling fish were mostly caught through the ice in the frozen winter months.

In the 1960s, the winter fishery exceeded thousands of pounds in the commercial and sport harvest, according to IDFG.

Because of their flaky, mild-tasting, white meat, burbot are called “poor man’s lobster” by anglers, but fishers often shy away from them because of their sinewy bodies and tails that can wrap around an angler’s forearm.

“They are pretty highly regarded in terms of how good they are to eat,” Dux said. “They certainly have a following.”

Adult burbot usually live in deep lakes or cool rivers normally living below the thermocline. They can grow to 40 inches and weigh as much as 40 pounds, but generally they tip the scales around 2 to 7 pounds, according to IDFG.

Burbot primarily feed mostly at night on invertebrates, but switch to a diet of fish as they get older.

Kootenai River burbot fell victim to an altered river system, especially a faster flow rate resulting from the Libby Dam that flushed eggs from the system and prevented spawning migration, according to IDFG.

Burbot are not the only thing that will be considered at public meetings in Coeur d’Alene set for 6:30 p.m. March 7 at the IDFG Panhandle Regional Office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave., or an earlier meeting in Ponderay slated for 6:30 p.m. March 6 at the Ponderay Events Center, 401 Bonner Mall Way.

Biologists use the meetings to gather public input, including concerns and suggestions, that will be considered in the management plan.

In addition, the department will gather public input for the statewide fishing rules that are set on a three-year cycle. The current rules expire Dec. 31. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will adopt regulations in November that will be in effect until 2021.

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