Native East Kootenay fish species, the westslope cutthroat trout in particular, are in need of protection, a situation that has prompted the Whiteswan Lake Fisheries Management Plan, fish biologist Heather Lamson told members of the Lake Windermere Rod and Gun club at the club’s most recent meeting.
“The problem is hybridization between westslope cutthroat trout and introduced rainbow trout,” said Ms. Lamson, a biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, at the February 20th meeting. “This is the reason for the plan.”
Rainbow trout are one of the most introduced fish species on the planet, she said, and are present in many places across the East Kootenay. The rainbow breed with the cutthroat, creating reproductively viable hybrid offspring. These hybrid offspring are helping reduce the range of westslope cutthroat across the continent to the point that westslope cutthroat are considered a “listed” (threatened but not yet technically endangered) species and are now found in only eight to 20 per cent of their traditional range (Alberta, Montana, Oregon, Idaho and B.C.). The highest elevation reaches of rivers in the East Kootenay are one of the few spots in which they haven’t suffered such drastic range reduction.
“The East Kootenay really is their stomping ground, one of their last strongholds and that’s why we need to do something,” said Ms. Lamson.
A management plan is needed specifically for Whiteswan Lake since the lake is one of three major rainbow trout hotspots in the East Kootenay (along with Lake Koocanusa and Summit Lake), and it is connected to the White River drainage through Outlet Creek, she said. The upper reaches of the White River are particularly rich westslope cutthroat habitat.
“Whiteswan is not the only problem,” she said. “Koocanusa is also a big problem, but Whiteswan is a concern because it is higher up in elevation gradient, higher up in the watershed, making it closer to the one of the few areas the cutthroat is still hanging on to, and because the White River (as westslope cutthroat trout habitat) is really worth protecting,” said Ms. Lamson. “At Whiteswan we still have a chance to do something before the problem moves up the White River.”
Several attempts at stopping out-migrating rainbow trout and rainbow-cutthroat hybrid from heading out of Whiteswan Lake and up the White River have already been made, including a fish fence put up in 2007 (which washed out in during spring runoff) and fry traps installed in Outleek Creek in 2009 and 2010, but more needs to be done, Ms. Lamson told the club.
“We need to put up a barrier of some kind,” she said.
A Habitat Conservation Trust Fund proposal for the area for 2014 and 2015 involves genetic sampling in lower Outlet Creek, manual removal of Rainbow trout is key areas and hiring an engineer to draw up plans for constructing a fish barrier on the lower Outlet Creek.
“We still want a viable fishery in Whiteswan Lake but we want to prevent rainbow trout from getting up the White River,” said Ms. Lamson.
The Natural Resource Operations ministry often stocks lakes in the East Kootenay with triploid rainbow trout (a reproductively unviable type of rainbow trout) as a way to help conserve wild stock while at the same time offering fishers some great lakes and rivers in which to cast their rods, she said.
“There are people who don’t like triploids for whatever reason, but we have to do what we can to protect wild species,” said Ms. Lamson.
Those wanting more information on the plan can contact Ms. Lamson at email@example.com .