Idaho Fish and Game is seeking public review and comment on proposed rule changes affecting fisheries and fishing opportunities in Idaho.
Any proposed rules adopted would take effect on January 1, 2013.
The agency is also seeking comment on the draft 2013-2018 Fisheries Management Plan. The document, which describes the proposed management direction for the next six years, is available for review in two parts. Part 1 describes proposed statewide fisheries programs, management policies, and challenges. Part 2 describes specific fishery management programs on a drainage by drainage basis.
In Panhandle Region, proposed rule changes are mainly associated with Pend Oreille Lake where Fish and Game is proposing more restrictive rainbow trout regulations and to restore a limited kokanee fishery. Lake trout suppression efforts that began in 2006 are paying off, regional fishery manager Jim Fredericks said.
“We’re certainly not saying the battle is over, but thanks to everyone involved, we’ve come a very long way in the past six years,” Fredericks said. “We are now at a point where we can start to rebuild the trophy rainbow trout fishery and provide limited kokanee harvest.”
Fish and Game is proposing a reduction from current regulations, which allow unlimited rainbow trout harvest and include a $15 incentive to a six-trout daily limit. In addition, the proposed rule would allow only one rainbow trout more than 20 inches. The harvest incentive program would end for rainbows, but not for lake trout. Fredericks said that while this isn’t the “ultimate trophy regulation” for the lake, it’s a big step in that direction.
The proposed kokanee limit will also be six-fish.
“We aren’t talking about a return to the heyday of 25 or 50 fish limits, but even so it would be great to see people out trolling for kokanee again,” he said.
The kokanee population has been steadily increasing since 2007, when it reached an all-time low. Andy Dux, the biologist heading up the Pend Oreille research program said the population is now at a higher level than it was when kokanee were closed to harvest in 2000. Research biologists are conducting the 2012 population estimates. As long as kokanee numbers continue to be headed upward, the population is capable of supporting a fishery, Dux said.
Another significant proposal is to shift fishing rules to a three-year cycle. Historically, rules were set every other year, but recently the 2008-09 rules were extended through 2010. Fredericks said the feedback from the public was generally very positive.
“People get frustrated by continually changing rules, so most anglers seem to like a longer cycle,” he said. It also reduces staff time and publication costs associated with developing new rule booklets. The main concern is whether Fish and Game can be responsive to sudden changes in fish populations if they go to a three-year cycle.
“That won’t be a problem because we always have the ability to change mid-cycle with emergency rule changes,” he said.
The main topic of discussion with the Fisheries Management Plan for the Panhandle has been the future management of Priest and Upper Priest lakes. Under the 2007-2012 plan, Priest Lake is being managed as a lake trout fishery, whereas Upper Priest Lake is managed to maintain the native bull trout and cutthroat populations through active lake trout suppression. Fredericks said that because of the extent of lake trout movement between the two lakes, managing the two as separate systems is not a practical long-term solution.
When Fish and Game solicited public comment on the issue earlier this spring in a series of public meetings and through a random mail survey, the agency sought comments on whether people favored managing the entire system for lake trout, which means abandoning efforts to maintain the native fish community in Upper Priest Lake, or trying to restore a kokanee, bull trout and cutthroat fishery in both lakes through a large-scale lake trout suppression effort on Priest Lake similar to that on Pend Oreille.
Not surprisingly, angler opinions were mixed. While the lake trout fishery is very popular with some, others have little interest in lake trout and welcome the prospect of a more diverse fishery, Fredericks said.
“In short, people were divided almost right down the middle,” he said.
To compound the problem, biologists don’t have a clear picture of how lake trout and kokanee populations in Priest Lake are interacting right now.
“Given the split public response, coupled with questions about factors controlling the kokanee population, lake trout diet and growth, angler harvest rates, and potential funding, it would be premature to make a decision about the long-term management of Priest Lake right now,” Fredericks said.
For that reason, Fish and Game is proposing to use the 2013-2018 planning period to collect data needed to understand lake trout and kokanee population dynamics and ecology of Priest Lake. As biologists gather new information in the coming years, Fredericks anticipates convening a diverse group of stakeholders to help guide development of a decision making process that will ultimately lead to a more informed, long-term management plan for Priest and Upper Priest lakes.
Details regarding the proposed fishing rule changes and link to the draft 2013-2018 Fisheries Management Plan can be found online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov or by contacting fishery biologists at the Panhandle Region office in Coeur d’Alene.
Anglers who would like to provide comments on the rule proposals or Fisheries Management Plan may:
- Contact Jim Fredericks, Panhandle Region Fisheries Manager, at 769-1414; or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at IDFG, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815S
- Submit comments online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov.
- Come to the Panhandle Region office at 2885 W. Kathleen Ave, in Coeur d’Alene anytime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. September 27 (or by appointment) for an open house to discuss thoughts or ideas in person with Fish and Game fisheries staff.
Comments regarding the proposed rule changes will be accepted until September 30.
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