Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, gypsy moth in Quebec, purple loosestrife on the Prairies — all examples of species introduced to Canada and causing problems. There are ways to eradicate these pests, but it seems like a constant and often controversial uphill struggle. Locally, northern pike are a glaring example.
Pike can grow to lengths upwards of 130 cm, weigh over 20 kg and live 30 years. Pike have been in the Columbia River for about four years now, first confirmed by Golder Associates during a fish survey conducted in 2010. Although it is still unclear exactly how they got here, some researchers believe it is likely pike have been introduced into our waterways through the Pend d’Oreille reservoir from the United States.
Pike can live almost anywhere, in cold or warm water, and will feed on any native fish. These fish are ambush predators that wait and strike at passing prey and can eat fish two-thirds their own body size as well as feeding on small mammals, birds, and frogs.
The Kootenay region is known for its abundant and thriving population of our beloved sport fish, rainbow trout, including the world famous Gerrard. The effects that pike can have on the local fish populations are a high level of concern.
Pike and their voracious diet threaten our native species who have not adapted to living with the predator. As of August 2013, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources implemented the Columbia River pike bounty in an effort to reduce pike numbers and gain information on their abundance and distribution. Along with an unlimited catch quota, there is the potential prize of $500 for catching a tagged fish.
The tags are invisible to anglers so people are encouraged to harvest all pike and bring the heads to be checked for a tag to the Arrow Forest District office on Columbia Avenue in Castlegar. If the head is not available, then details such as the time caught, date, length, and a photograph if possible will help the ministry in their efforts.
While this seems like an enticing opportunity to most anglers in the region, how much will the bounty actually help? Can they ever be eradicated? Once a fish like this enters a
massive body of water it can be extremely difficult to take control of them, like in the extreme case of Asian carp in the Mississippi River.
This summer, local fisheries biologists used a technique that has worked for the Kalispell Tribe in Spokane and Washington State Fish and Wildlife. They have been successful in reducing pike numbers in the Box Canyon Reservoir of the Pend d’Oreille River using gill nets.
Local biologists are using the same technique in the Columbia. They used a net with various size holes to catch different life stages of pike and caught 100 adults. The number of captures has steadily declined in each successive fishing effort which suggest the technique may be working.
We still don’t know what the introduction of northern pike will mean for us here in the Kootenays, but the more information gathered will aid researchers and biologists in future management decisions.
Contrary to what some people think, pike meat is delicious cooked or smoked and Canadians east of the Rockies would be envious of our unlimited quota. So fishing for some northern pike will put a nice dinner on the table and could help all the other native species in our waters.