Sport anglers could catch more non-native trout in Lake Cle Elum and give sockeye a leg up in the process under a proposed change to fishery regulations.
The proposal by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife would eliminate the existing two-fish catch limit on three non-native trout – lake trout, also known as mackinaw, brown trout and eastern brook trout – that prey on the juvenile salmon. And, it would restrict catching another trout – kokanee – to reduce accidental harvest of the similar looking sockeye.
Fish and Wildlife is collecting public comments on the proposed changes. John Easterbrooks, regional fish program manager, said the response so far has been positive.
“Most people, 12 out of 13, are in favor because it helps reintroduce sockeye and helps native fish recovery,” Easterbrooks said. “Right now, a two-fish limit is really holding back our ability to reduce the mackinaw population.”
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The mackinaw were introduced from Wisconsin nearly a century ago and became a somewhat popular sport fish, Easterbrooks said. But, as the Yakama Nation’s sockeye reintroduction plan moves forward, he said it became apparent that the lake trout needed to go.
Yakama Nation fish biologist Brian Saluskin said the proposed change is an important step. The Yakama Nation also sponsors a spring derby to encourage fishermen to catch more mackinaw, and the ones caught during lake sampling efforts are killed, he said.
“I know a few people enjoy that sport fishery, but we’re trying to re-establish a resource and mackinaw are interfering with that process,” Saluskin said. “They'll eat anything and everything they can get their mouths around.”
As for the kokanee fishery changes, Easterbrooks said the Wildlife Department quit stocking Lake Cle Elum with kokanee when the sockeye reintroduction began. That means when people now catch what they think are kokanee, it’s probably sockeye, he said.
Putting a size limit on kokanee between 9 inches and 15 inches will prevent fishermen from catching both juvenile sockeye and returning adults, but allow them to continue to catch the fish that end up staying in the lake instead of migrating. Easterbrooks called that a good compromise, so the lake still has a sport fishery.
Saluskin said he’s glad to see the state and the fishing public support the rule changes and the larger sockeye reintroduction process, which could eventually support both a tribal and sport fishery, if successful.
“There’s the broad consensus that, yeah, we’d rather fish for sockeye than mackinaw,” Saluskin said. “But it’s not going to happen right away. Bringing them back is going to take a little while.”
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission will make a decision on the rule change in January, Easterbrooks said, and he expects it to be adopted.
The Yakama Nation Fisheries has also started an online petition to encourage the Fish and Wildlife Commission to remove the catch limit on mackinaw.