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Restart lake trout suppression program

by Wade Fredenberg
| January 30, 2024 12:00 AM

In his “Failed fishery management” commentary a couple of weeks ago, columnist Warren Illi’s long-held personal bias toward fish of the Midwest was showing once again.  

Even at the time lake trout (1905) and lake whitefish (1909) were introduced into Flathead Lake by the U.S. fish commission, folks were aware that different fish species had distinct attributes. The commerce department was misguided in those early efforts, attempting to create commercial fisheries similar to the Great Lakes in Flathead Lake. While the logic was seriously flawed, it reflected the priority in 1900 for commerce over sport.  

In the 8-year interagency effort (2008-2015) to suppress lake trout in Swan Lake, over 60,000 lake trout were removed.  Ultimately the project wound down because it was underfunded and failed to meet optimistically high standards for near-term success. In hindsight, the Swan Lake bull trout population that was collapsing between 2008 and 2012, showed signs of stabilizing between 2013 and 2019.

Since termination of the lake trout suppression project, the collapse of Swan Lake bull trout and kokanee has resumed.  Bull trout spawner counts in 2023 were at a 45-year low.  

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fishery managers deserve credit for their proposal, currently before the FWP Commission, to restart the lake trout suppression program in Swan Lake. 

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited applauds the effort to try to save native bull trout. Information gained from the previous effort will enhance the chances for success going forward.   

If a “fish is a fish is a fish” as Mr. Illi asserts, then a “hummingbird is a condor is a bird” and a “grizzly bear is a mammal is a New York rat.”  

Bull Trout are a unique and valuable species native to this area. Bull trout belong in Montana and in Swan Lake. Not all fish do.

Wade Fredenberg is president of Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited.