Fish disagreements

A story we ran about management of walleye and pike in certain lakes drew a response. The reason those two species are in trouble, said the caller, is because there are so many whitefish in the lake, competing for the same food and in fact preying upon young walleye and pike. Commercial net fishing for lake whitefish took out a lot of the competition, he said, so walleye and pike did better. So the commercial fishing complemented the sport fishing.
Is this valid? Not really, according to Dr. Peter Colby, the third party fellow who studied the situation in several northern lakes and pronounced his verdict back in 2012. He dealt with such questions in his report, stating more than once that trying to control fish populations through intensive harvest is “a recipe for failure.” The commercial fishing people didn’t accept Colby’s conclusions and said so quite plainly at the time.
A related question was asked at the consultation session on walleye and pike that was held in Slave Lake last month. Have pike and walleye rebounded in lakes since commercial fishing was stopped? In some it has, was the answer; in others, too soon to tell.
Our caller last week said commercial fishing was suspended once before for about 10 years. When it ended, net pulls showed walleye and pike had suffered by the surge in whitefish population during that period. They were underfed and scrawny, he said.
What we’ve noticed is that the actual science doesn’t always agree with what fisherpeople think is going on in our lakes. The resource managers make their decisions based on what their studies tell them. There are examples of false assumptions being made on the basis of what people think they are seeing. There are probably also examples of the science failing to capture the big picture.
There is some natural balance to be had, in lakes like Lesser Slave. If the caller is right, then the natural balance is a lake full of whitefish and skimpy pike and walleye populations. If so, that would be inconvenient for the sport fishing industry. It’s hard to argue against letting nature take its course, but of course we’re intervening all the time, one way or another.

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