Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is staffed by talented managers and biologists doing great work for Montana’s fish, wildlife, and parks around the state. Unfortunately, FWP managers are choosing speculation over peer-reviewed science and sound economics to drum up opposition to the Flathead Lake Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). A recent newspaper column, a letter or two by Flathead Lake commercial fishermen, and an editorial in a local paper all repeat inaccurate and unfounded arguments in opposition to the Flathead Lake DEIS. Here’s what FWP is not including in their information on opposition to the proposed plan.
1) The tribes have employed the scientific method with peer review using data and state of the art population modeling developed by well-regarded experts. This was undertaken at great cost, just as the tribes fund the Mack Days contests to the tune of $350,000 per year. FWP has not collected independent data, resorts to speculation and has not produced any models or other analysis to counter tribal results.
2) Biologists in all the agencies involved in this process, as well as other research, support implementing one of the reasonable alternatives to reduce the over-abundant lake trout population. FWP’s managers simply “believe” this and that won’t work. FWP’s efforts at Swan Lake demonstrate it can use science to inform lake trout suppression. But for some reason, they refuse to do so at Flathead Lake.
3) “Secure” to FWP means status quo, meaning you can’t fish for bull trout in the lake and river, angling for cutthroats will continue to be catch and release and bull trout will continue to be managed not by the State of Montana, but by the federal government because the fish will continue to be listed as threatened.
4) At the same time FWP bemoans the fact that fewer new anglers are coming on board, resulting in fewer license dollars to support department programs. FWP supports recreational fishery management at Flathead Lake that ensures it is dominated by lake trout, requiring specialized equipment and boats. Sticking with existing management on the lake means much fewer angling opportunities for the public, as evidenced by the steep decline in angler days since lake trout have exploded — from a high of 170,000 angler-days a year to 33,000 in 2011.
5) There is a reason most other biologists and nationally known fishery geneticists disagree that bull trout are “secure” in the Flathead. First, far fewer bull trout are showing up in sampling nets in the lake. Second, though the overall number of spawning redds in the North and Middle Forks combined appears to be steady — or as FWP claims “secure,” — the North Fork population is dropping precipitously. The decline is masked by combining spawning there with that of the healthier Middle Fork.
6) There is absolutely no evidence that reducing the lake trout population as proposed in the DEIS will result in less fishing opportunity. FWP has no data to support this. Research from elsewhere indicates catch-rates for lake trout are likely to remain the same or slightly less than today. The benefit will be higher catch-rates for other species in the lake and river system.
7) Even if the most aggressive alternative in the DEIS is selected, there would still be more than 1 million lake trout in Flathead Lake. Enough to provide a good fishery and far more than recovered populations of bull trout and cutthroats.
8) FWP has no data demonstrating that current angling for lake trout represents a large part of the local economy, nor does the agency demonstrate that 1 million lake trout would result in much less angling opportunity. $20 million is misquoted as the value of the lake trout fishery. That, of course, is the value of the total Flathead fishery, including money spent angling on the Flathead River and lake. Only slightly more than half is spent on the lake, and 40% of that is not spent in pursuit of lake trout. When you include all the fishing money spent in other tributaries and lakes within the Flathead watershed, the value of the small mackinaw fishery pales in comparison. The Flathead Lake DEIS estimates that the loss to the two-county economy due to suppression would be less than 0.1% and that would likely be made up by increased river angling.
9) Columnists, a letter writer, and a recent editorial would scare you into believing that if you buy electricity from BPA you will pay for this plan. You have already paid that money. BPA sets aside mitigation funds every year for worthy projects. That money will be collected and spent regardless of whether or not it is spent on Flathead Lake. There will be no additional cost to rate payers.
10) FWP decries the estimated bycatch of bull trout resulting from netting in Flathead Lake. Bycatch is rightly a concern to be addressed and avoided, and the tribes are committed to this. The US Fish and Wildlife Service must approve and monitor the level of estimated bycatch before and during any netting on Flathead Lake. Accurate data from other regional waters where fish populations are being rebalanced by reducing lake trout show that reducing lake trout populations can be accomplished without adverse effect on native bull trout and cutthroat populations. FWP’s own data on Swan Lake has shown that bull trout can be avoided in the netting process.
“Belief” and speculation cannot take the place of thoughtful, rigorous science and sound economics in this important process to recover native fish in the Flathead. FWP needs to support this process and live up to their promises to recover native fish in the Flathead.
Learn more at http://www.flatheadtu.org/
CSKT response to the MFWP talking points: http://www.mackdays.com/DEIS/page75/
Read the DEIS at the CSKT website at http://www.flatheadlakeeis.net/