|March 27, 2014
Mack Days one of many means of reducing lake trout
By Adriana Fehrs
Mack Days employees fillet the donated fish, and then freeze them. CSKT later donates the lake trout to local food banks. Last year over 28,000 fish were donated. (Photo courtesy of CSKT Fisheries Department)
POLSON — After the introduction of Mysis shrimp into the upper Flathead drainage, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and CSKT have been searching for ways to decrease the number of non-native lake trout, ‘mackinaw’ or ‘Mack’ for short, in Flathead Lake. Angling has been one method of choice for CSKT since 2002. CSKT introduced ‘Mack Days’, an event where people come out to fish for lake trout on the south end of the Flathead Lake to win prizes, as a way to help preserve the ecosystem.
In 1968, opossum shrimp or ‘Mysis shrimp’, were introduced to the Ashley, Swan, and Whitefish Lakes to boost kokanee fish populations. Previously, the dominant sport fish in the area had been native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. In 1981 when the Mysis shrimp moved into Flathead Lake, the lake trout population grew rapidly. The shrimp became a main food staple for the lake trout, turning their once white flesh to orange in color. Due to the large increase in lake trout numbers, the bull and cutthroat trout populations have dramatically declined, and still continue to suffer today.
The number nonnative lake trout populations have increased after the introduction of Mysis shrimp in 1968. The increase in the lake trout has caused the bull trout population to dwindled to about 3,000 in all of the Flathead Lake system, a 90 percent reduction. CSKT implemented the Mack Days event, a fishing competition in the south end of Flathead Lake, in 2002 to help decrease lake trout numbers. (Photo courtesy of CSKT Fisheries Department)
In 2000, CSKT and FWP adopted the Flathead Lake and River Fisheries Co-Management Plan to coordinate fisheries management of the lake and river system. Their cooperative agreement expired in 2010; the divisions currently have different plans. CSKT is taking an incremental approach to reducing lake trout numbers. FWP has not initiated any of the measures in the plan to reduce lake trout abundance, but has liberalized bag limits.
CSKT and FWP’s opposing views on the issue have caused some controversies. FWP remains clear on the issue; they have a large influx of individuals that come to fish the lake for prize winning trophy lake trout. FWP is afraid that hosting the Mack Days event and also gillnetting, a method that would use nets to capture lake trout, would reduce the amount of trophy fish in the lake. Cindy Bras, CSKT Fisheries Specialist and head of the Mack Days event, says, “FWP takes a more financial approach to the situation.”
CSKT’s focus is more on preserving the natural ecosystem balance. Bras says, “the native species of fish in Flathead Lake, like the bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, not only play an important role in the ecosystem, but they have a large cultural value to people here.”
Bras explains, “CSKT is concerned that repeated references to a gillnetting ‘proposal’ or ‘plan’ seems intended to purposely mislead and/or be inflammatory. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) explores a range of methods and degrees of suppression which include use of either targeted gillnets or trap-nets. All of the alternatives are designed to benefit native trout. There would be extensive and rigorous monitoring to measure the effects of each alternative. Concerns regarding uncertainty need to be weighed against the very large body of evidence indicating the negative role of lake trout and the clear means to restore native trout.”
CSKT Fisheries reminds anglers to be careful when identifying their catch when they are competing in the Mack Days event. Sometimes anglers can confuse the endangered native bull trout with a lake trout. Just remember the saying “No black, put it back.” If there are no identifying black spots on the dorsal fin, it’s a bull trout, and should be released immediately. (Photo courtesy of the CSKT Fisheries Department)
“It’s an important time right now,” says Germaine White, CSKT Information and Education Specialist for the Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) estimates there are 1.5 million to two million non-native lake trout in the Flathead water system, and only 3,000 native bull trout - a 90 percent reduction in population. CSKT says that the harvest in Mack Days has supplemented the general harvest to achieve a total harvest of about 70,000 lake trout annually, or about 40,000 greater than without Mack Days. Over the long term the harvest would gradually reduce the abundance of large fish, resulting in a modest reduction in predation on bull trout.
The 2014 Mack Days event started on March 14, and will continue until May 18. Currently, anglers can fish Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The last ten days of the event, starting on May 9, anglers can fish every day until May 18. (see related article on page 7)
Anglers can win prizes based on different categories. There is a Lottery Drawing, where thirty luck ticket holders can win a cash prize, ranging from $1,000 to $550. There is a youth (teens) category for most fish caught, the top winner receives a cash prize of $600, and the Youth (twelve and under) category winner receives a $100 prize. Other categories include: Top Angler, Single/Team competition or Heaviest Fish Days, Early Angler Registration, Weekend Prizes, Captain’s Prize, Spirit of the Event, Ladies Only, Largest Lake Trout, Last Day, Golden Angler Award, and a Bonus category. There is also a prize for any lake trout caught that has a tracker – up to a 10,000-dollar prize. A total of $150,000 in cash prizes will be given out to winners.
To begin by entering the event, a participant has to fill out a free entry form that can be found at www.mackdays.com, under the ‘Events’ tab, or entry forms are available at Bob Wards, Wholesale Sports, and Montana FWP in Missoula, Snappy’s Sport Center, Sportsman’s Ski Haus, and Montana FWP in Kalispell, Zimmers Tackle in Pablo, Ronan Sports and Western, CSKT Natural Resources in Polson, and at the CSKT offices in Pablo.
Workers gather around to rapidly gut and clean the donated lake trout during the Mack Days event, which goes from March 14 to May 18. (Photo courtesy of CSKT Fisheries Department)
Nontribal anglers must have a special ‘Flathead Lake Combination Usage’ fishing permit, in order to fish on the southern end of Flathead Lake. They can be found and purchased for 13 dollars at any fishing permit vendor.
There are many available fish check-in spots around the lake. Blue Bay, from 9 a.m. to dark - no later than 9 p.m., Sommers Access Site, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Wayfarers, 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Big Arm, 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Salish Point in Polson, 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. On May 18, all fish entries must be done at Blue Bay, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On May 18, winners are announced and a fish fry is held at Blue Bay. Winners do not need to be present to receive prizes, but CSKT encourages anglers to come and enjoy the food.
All fish donated are given to food banks in the area. Food banks from Whitefish to Missoula last year received over 28,000 fish, close to ten tons of meat.
For more information on the Mack Days event, contact the CSKT Fisheries department at (406) 883 – 2888, or visit their website at www.mackdays.com.