Last week, an angler reported to Idaho Fish and Game that he had recently caught a walleye on the Snake River below Swan Falls Dam in Southwest Idaho. The angler provided photos, allowing fisheries biologists to confirm that it was a walleye. The angler will also provide the carcass to IDFG.
This report marks the third body of water this spring in which Southwest Idaho anglers have encountered walleye where they should not, with the other two coming from Lake Cascade and Lake Lowell.
“We are obviously seeing a recent trend here in the Southwest Region,” said Regional Fisheries Manager Art Butts. “It appears very likely that at least some of the walleye caught this spring were illegally introduced by irresponsible, self-serving individuals. While we can’t say that with 100 percent certainty just yet, we are actively working to confirm it.”
IDFG has taken samples from two walleye caught during spring – the one from Lake Cascade and the most recent one caught below Swan Falls Dam. Those samples will be tested at a lab for microchemistry analysis. Through that analysis, biologists should be able to determine how long each fish was in the water from which they were caught, and potentially the waterbody from which they originated.
It’s illegal for individuals without proper permits to transport and transplant any fish, and IDFG law enforcement staff is looking into each of the angler-reported walleye in the event that walleye were transplanted illegally. They are asking the public for any information regarding who may have done it, and rewards are available for information leading to a citation. People can provide information anonymously through the Citizens Against Poaching tipline, or by calling (800) 632-5999.
“So called ‘bucket biologists’ are so dead set on establishing more fishing opportunities for a particular species that they have no qualms about threatening existing fisheries that are critically important to many other anglers,” Butts said. “Whether you are a diehard smallmouth angler below Swan Falls Dam, perch angler on Lake Cascade, or a largemouth and panfish angler on Lake Lowell, illegally introduced walleye have the potential to dramatically and negatively affect the fishery you love, and it’s not something anglers should take lightly. If you see or hear something, report it.”
As with Lake Cascade and Lake Lowell, fisheries managers are concerned with the potential effects an established walleye population might have on existing and popular fisheries.
“The most recent report comes from a stretch of the Snake River that sits between two tremendously important trout, bass, crappie and white sturgeon fisheries that are likely to be harmed if walleye become established,” said Joe Kozfkay, State Fisheries Manager. “It feels like we’re playing Russian Roulette with five bullets in a six-bullet chamber.”
Walleye are nonnative in Idaho and are managed in a very limited numbers of waters in the state because walleye can be harmful to other game fish, take over popular fishing waters and lead to a decrease in fish available for anglers.
IDFG provides walleye in a few, carefully selected reservoirs that are in closed systems so the fish can’t migrate into other waters, and where walleye are suitable for those bodies of water. These include: Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, Oakley Reservoir and Oneida Narrows Reservoir. Among these locations, walleye are valued by some anglers and diversify fishing opportunity in state. There are no IDFG-provided walleye fisheries in the Southwest Region.
While walleye aren’t “bad” fish, they’re just not suitable for most Idaho waters. Walleye are nonnative to Idaho and native to the upper Midwest where they rely on a prolific prey base of minnows and other small fish that are not typically found here. In the absence of those prey and forage minnows that are native and prolific in walleye’s home waters, walleye and other predatory fish are forced to prey on important and popular game fish, running the risk of collapsing those fisheries.
“Most of Idaho’s fisheries are a delicate balance of fish species and other factors that are painstakingly monitored and managed by Fish and Game biologists to ensure sustainable fishing opportunities into the future,” Butts added. “The addition of a predator like a walleye into those systems can completely throw off that balance, leading to a collapsed fishery and a loss of opportunity to fish for other species that are vitally important to other anglers.”
IDFG asks anglers who catch a walleye (in waters where they are not supposed to exist) to kill, remove and report them to a regional office. Anglers can keep the fillets, but are being asked to save the carcass and bring it to a regional office, or notify department staff and arrange for a pickup.