Some Bear Lakers strongly oppose Idaho’s plan to net lake trout

Emily Wright shows a lake trout caught and released at Bear Lake with a gillnet in 2019.

GARDEN CITY – A retired Division of Wildlife Resources fisheries biologist at Bear Lake and a group of concerned citizens believe letting Idaho Fish and Game net and transfer 400 lake trout from Bear Lake and restocking them in Idaho waters is a mistake

Bryce Nielsen holds a lake trout caught in Bear Lake. The retired Utah Division of Wildlife Resource fisheries biologist thinks netting and removing lake trout from Bear Lake is a mistake.

“I don’t think Idaho Fish and Game has done their homework on the difference of the water. The water in Bear Lake is different than anywhere else in the West,” Bryce Nielsen said. “I have worked on the lake for 40 years and done extensive research on lake trout.”

Idaho Fish and Game (IF&G) officials said they were going to net lake trout from Stanley Lake to protect the kokanee and sockeye then replace them with sterile lake trout from Bear Lake.

They have tried to stock Stanley Lake with lake trout from the Grace Fish Hatchery, but they were too small to please the anglers. That’s why they want to take the large lake trout out of the Bear Lake and drop them into Stanley Lake, Nielsen said.

We have four fish species that are not found anywhere else in the world: the Bonneville Cisco, two white fish species – the Bonneville White Fish, Bear Lake White Fish, and the Bear Lake Sculpin.”

This endemic group of fish evolved over 1000’s of years in the lake. They are different because they all spawn in the winter. They all are efficient eggs predators and live and grow by eating eggs of other species, and even their own. These fish are an extremely important forage base for cutthroat trout.

“The number of these species captured in gill nets have been consistent over the last 50 years,” he said.” I’m worried the endemic fish will not survive being commercial netted. We don’t want to see the other fish caught in the nets destroyed.”

A boat using a gillnet will be used in June to catch 400 lake trout in Bear Lake as part of a study by Utah and Idaho wildlife agencies.

Utah DWR has been stocking 17,000 sterile lake trout into Bear Lake since the early 2000’s.

Four years ago, IF&G formed an advisory committee made up of anglers from the Stanley area, fishing guides, business owners, US Forest Service staff and Fish and Game biologists. Over the course of several meetings the group developed the Stanley Lake Fisheries Management Plan that outlines steps to balance lake trout fishing opportunities with risk reduction to sockeye in the upper Salmon River and Sawtooth Valley lakes.

There is no mention of anyone from Bear Lake being included in the discussions.

“IDFG say they will be doing a study on the lake trout they net,” Nielsen said. “They’ve worked on big lakes in Idaho that are completely different than Bear Lake. There are no comparable lakes in the Western United States.”

Lake trout in the Idaho lakes and rivers have migrated long distances and colonized connected lakes. Large lake trout populations in Stanley Lake are reproducing and may pose a risk to kokanee and sockeye salmon populations in nearby waters.

“IDFG has concerns that the lake trout population may dramatically increase and have a negative impact on endemics. Past data collections illustrate that this will not happen,” Nielsen said. “Is it worthwhile to kill potentially 1000’s of other fish (cutthroat and lake trout, endemics and non-game fish) for 400 sterile lake trout with questionable chances of survival?”

Dillon Rich, of Fish Haven, Idaho, said he is part of a group of concerned citizens and sportsmen are also unhappy with the decision of IF&G to net lake trout.

“We have gathered over 3,000 signatures of people who would like to stop Idaho from taking trout out of Bear Lake,” he said. “We have mayors of cities and county commissioners who are also not happy with IF&G netting lake trout in Bear Lake.”

What we would like is for them to have a public meeting where we could voice our opinion,” Rich added. “We feel like the decision was made without any respect for us or the lake.”

He said Bear Lake is personal to the people that live near it or to people that visit it.

“Everyone has a memory of Bear Lake; it is a real thing,” Rich said.  “It’s like your best friend and nobody messes with your best friend.”

He said this isn’t sustainable and questions whether they will be coming back every year to get more lake trout.

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