Board of fish considers expanding mandatory kill for northern pike

A northern pike with its stomach of small salmonids. Courtesy: ADF&G

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - This week the Alaska Board of Fisheries will consider a proposal to expand the area where releasing northern pike back in the water from which it was caught in is prohibited.

Previously the board voted to put the rule in place for the West Cook Inlet and the Susitna drainage in 2011.

“A lot of people actually thought that applied Southcentral-wide, but in reality it only applied to those two management areas. So this really is just kind of a housekeeping proposal, making this region consistent with those,” Parker Bradley, invasive species research biologists with the ADF&G said.

Although pike are native to much of Alaska, they are considered invasive in Southcentral.

Parker says that genetic testing shows that the pike is Southcentral are distinct from those in Western Alaska and most likely came from a population in Minto Springs. There is no prior record of pike in Southcentral before the mid 1950s.

“The impact is pretty well documented. Heavy predation on salmonid populations here in the region, Alexander Creek probably being the worst case scenario,” Bradley said. “In some of these systems they’re actually able to extirpate most of the salmon populations, trout populations and native species. But it really just depends on the habitat the degree of impact they have in an area. So some places pike do co-occur with salmon in Southcentral because the habitat is not as good for pike.”

Most of ADF&G work on pike has focused on eradicating the species from the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage. Bradley says that the department is now shifting its focus to the MatSu valley.

The proposal from the department to before the Board of Fish would add the Anchorage Bowl and Knik drainage to the areas where releasing a pike back into the water it came from is prohibited, yet not everyone supports the plan the department is following for pike management.

“I’m a sportfisherman,” guide Jason Perrego said. “I like the challenge of going into new lakes and unlocking the treasures, and for me, I think it’s against my individual right for the state to force me to kill a fish that I choose not to harvest that originates in that body of water. And that’s what proposal 214 does. If I’m out fishing and I catch a northern pike, it forces my hand to kill that fish against my will.”

Perrego has built a successful fishing guide business in the MatSu valley and pike are part of that business.

“If you look at the lakes in Western Alaska and in the Interior, northern pike coexist with record number salmon runs, and it’s because the ecosystem is balanced. They claim that northern pike is the invasive apex predator. The invasive apex predator is us, people in general. More specifically, commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet,” Perrego said. “This is an opportunity for the state to really understand we’re not getting rid of pike, they’re here to stay forever. We need to manage them appropriately and in my terms managing appropriately means keeping the larger fish in the system, harvesting some of the smaller ones, create a world-class trophy fishery in the MatSu valley that people will once again want to travel to.”

The board of fish is scheduled to vote on the proposal Tuesday.

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