One of the most popular fisheries in the East Kootenay is likely to undergo some pretty significant changes this year.
Whiteswan Lake, nestled in the Kootenay Rocky Mountain range about 25 kilometres east of Canal Flats, has been a priority for fisheries management people over the past few years.
Proposed changes concerning this lake and nearby Moose Lake (Alces) were based on recommendations from stakeholders who participated in the recently developed Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park Management Plan. There were many options for management considered in this plan, including leaving the lake “status quo” — or no changes. This option was ruled out for several reasons apparently, but the main one being that stakeholders participating in the plan had indeed recommended some changes after much consultation.
Therefore, doing nothing would create negative engagement results for participants, and there would be unnecessary opportunity restrictions on anglers as well.
What Changes can Anglers Expect?
In reference to this, I recently interviewed Heather Lamson, a Fisheries Biologist with the B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations. Heather came to the East Kootenay three years ago to join the Cranbrook based staff, after spending time in California, Terrace, Squamish, and Campbell River in the same line of work. The following is the dialogue from that interview.
Question: Can you tell our readers what management options will likely occur on Whiteswan Lake in 2015/16?
Answer: Proposed regulation changes, effective April 1st, 2015 include the following: Opening Whiteswan on December 27,changed from January 3rd. Changing Moose Lake regulation from “No ice fishing; trout/char daily quota = 2; bait ban, single barbless hook; electric motors only to “trout/char daily quota 2”.
Opening Outlet Creek below the falls to harvest on rainbow trout (limit five) April 1 to July 31.
Question: Before we talk about the actual regulation changes there is one thing I would like to get you to comment on. The fish barrier at Outlet Creek seemed to be one of the most popular management options from stakeholders. (A) Why is the construction of a fish barrier necessary? (B) How much will the barrier cost? I am assuming the Habitat Conservation Fund would be a natural source of funding for a project such as this because monies for the fund come from surcharges on angling and hunting licenses?
Answer: Outlet Creek flows from Whiteswan Lake to the White River. A waterfall exists on Outlet Creek which is a barrier to upstream migration into the lake but which rainbow trout can successfully move downstream over. Rainbow trout are not native to the East Kootenay region and have been stocked in Whiteswan Lake and many other lakes in the region over the past 50 years.
Our two native trout species in the East Kootenay, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, are both listed as species at risk. Rainbow trout escape from Whiteswan Lake through Outlet Creek and are known to hybridize with westslope cutthroat trout.
Hybridization with rainbow trout is the leading cause for the decline of the westslope cutthroat trout species, which exist as pure cutthroat in only eight to 20 per cent of their native range. A barrier on Outlet Creek will allow for rainbow trout spawning and fry to return to the lake to sustain the population there but will stop outmigration to the White River.
By stopping the source of rainbow trout to downstream waters, the goal is to reverse hybridization while maintaining a strong rainbow trout fishery at Whiteswan Lake.
The estimated cost for barrier construction ranges from $120,000 to $170,000. The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC has been very supportive of fisheries work at Whiteswan Lake and has funded a number of projects over the past couple of years, as has our Fish and Wildlife branch. We will be seeking funding from FFSBC and FLNRO, and are hoping the project will be funded in either 2015 or 2016.
Pictured: The bull trout, along with the westslope cutthroat trout, is native to the East Kootenay. Both are considered species at risk. Hybrization with rainbow trout is one of the reasons for the decline of westslope cutthroat trout numbers. Joseph R. Tomelleri illustration
Question: Now to the regulation changes themselves. The opening of Outlet Creek for fishing below the falls from April 1-July 31 is an interesting option. It does puzzle me a bit because of course this is for the most part, spawning season for naturalized Rainbow trout from Whiteswan Lake. I simply do not know of too many fisherman who will want to fish for trout which are in the spawning process and are very likely inedible. Would you explain the rationale behind this?
Answer: The idea is to enable fishermen with a tool to help fisheries managers remove rainbow trout from Outlet Creek below the falls. Results from genetic analysis have shown that below the falls, rainbow trout have displaced westslope cutthroat trout in Outlet Creek. Paired with creating a barrier to stop outmigration, Fisheries aims to remove colonized rainbow trout from Outlet Creek and perhaps anglers can help us do that. Studies in other areas have shown that there is a strong tendency for displaced westslope cutthroat trout to recolonize if the rainbow source is reduced or stopped.
Question: What is the reasoning behind opening the ice fishery on this lake on December 27, instead of January 3 as it has been for so many years?
Answer: The annual ice fishery at Whiteswan Lake will open seven days earlier to create opportunity for school aged children to fish during holidays. Stakeholders prioritized fishing opportunities for children and opening Whiteswan during school holidays is a step towards that.
Question: Whiteswan Lake has not really been significantly stocked since 2004. Both your lake net survey data and annual spawner data suggests the trout population is stable in this lake, but increased angler days may increase harvest. Keeping this in mind, Is there a possibility that the trout population could be augmented with stocked sterile triploid trout in the future?
Answer: Stocking with sterile rainbow trout is an option for the future. Our extensive fish and angler datasets at Whiteswan Lake indicate that the population is self-sustaining and stable, and that harvest rates have steadily decreased over the past 20-50 years. We will keep a close eye on the fishery following regulation changes to determine harvest and if the lake warrants additional stocking. Too many fish in a lake can reduce food supply and affect fish size, so we need to balance population size with harvest.
Question: Other than the increased limit on Outlet Creek below the falls, will the trout daily quota remain at two in the main body of the lake with a continued single hook restriction?
Question: I understand that nearby Moose Lake, which has been managed as somewhat of a trophy fishery in the past, will be open for ice fishing for the first time later on this year and some of the other restrictions will be lifted as well. Can you elaborate on this?
Answer: Stakeholder direction from the Whiteswan Fisheries Management Planning process included managing Moose Lake as a family fishery. Moose Lake is less windy than Whiteswan and smaller, conducive to fishing for kids. Since 2013, Moose Lake has been stocked with greater numbers to reflect this change. A change in regulations to open the ice fishery and liberalize restrictions will potentially offset pressure at Whiteswan as well. As a stocked lake, harvest can be offset with stocking.
Thanks Heather. We appreciate you making all of us aware of these changes which are likely going to be implemented starting April 1 when the new regulations for 2015/16 go into effect.
F.J. Hurtak is an ardent fisherman, and the author of the books “Elk Hunting in the Kootenays”, and “Hunting the Antlered Big game of the Kootenays”, available at selected retailers in B.C. and Alberta. All profits go to acquire land for wildlife and enhancing habitat in the Kootenay region.