Poor fishing puzzles residents

Biologist Andrew Klassen stocks a lake with trout. - Photo contributed
Biologist Andrew Klassen stocks a lake with trout.
— image credit: Photo contributed

White Lake and area residents are hoping to find out what's going wrong in the lake and they're willing to help find the answers.

Potential problems in the lake were first aired early in the year, when longtime White Lake fisherman Alf Davy raised the alarm about a substantial drop in rainbow trout catch in the past three years.

His concerns were taken up by the White Lake Residents Association (WLRA).

WLRA president Bryon Every says several other fishermen have also voiced their concerns about the drop in fish.

"There were all sorts of ideas about what was causing it,  including a beaver dam at the mouth of Cedar Creek that was potentially blocking the spawning trout from getting into the creek," says Every.

Every says, residents have also questioned if there have been changes to the food system or the vegetation  and decided they needed to do something besides speculating.

He notes that, following several meetings and conversations, the association has garnered support from the ministries of Environment and Forests, Lands and Resource Operations, as well as the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo and Dr. Brian Heise of Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Science.

As well as trying to raise funds to help offset the costs of proposed studies, WLRA members are providing volunteers to do some of the work.

"The stomach samples we have offered to do for them will be a big help," Every says of plans to examine the contents of the stomachs of fish that are caught on the lake for a full year. "They've never had a baseline on the food chain before."

As well, volunteers will be surveying fishermen for their input on fishing in the lake.

"We're doing a spawning count to see how many fish are actually going up the creek," he says. "That's gonna help the ministry to establish how many stock fish they need to put in."

But Steve Maricle, senior fish biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says the number of fish stocked this year was increased from 25,000 to 45,000.

But, he cautions that over-stocking could cause further problems, with competition for food resulting in smaller fish, which is not likely to appeal to anglers either.

And while he says, nobody knows what the problem is, Maricle suspects it is an overabundance of goldfish.

"They're probably eating over 50 per cent of the food in the lake," he says, noting the goldfish population seems to fluctuate, with a high number being present at this time. "They're far better competitors, they can handle warmer water and produce in the lake at a much higher rate."

Maricle says a long-term plan is in the works to have a masters student from Thompson Rivers University do a study on chara in White Lake and several other Interior lakes.

"There have been some indications suggesting the changes in UV may affect sensitive aquatic vegetation," he says, describing chara as an olive green food source that spreads carpet-like on the bottom of the lake, providing excellent nutrients and good cover for the invertebrates that provide food for the fish.

But Maricle cautions that even if studies do produce answers, he's not sure there is a lot that can be done.

Killing off the fish in White Lake as was done several years ago to rid Gardom Lake of bass and perch is not an option.

Not only are their hundreds of water licences on the lake and creek, but the cost to treat such a big lake with Rotenone would be astronomical, particularly as goldfish require double the dose.

Maricle says he has floated the idea of stocking the lake with non-reproductive female kokanees.

"They would do better and they are fishable the whole year," he says, noting the fish are tasty and will feed on plankton out in the deep water. "If it was decided the trout fishery has suffered beyond repair it would offer an opportunity for a better fishery."

But Maricle is quick to point out such a move would require majority public approval.

"The good thing about them, as soon as I stop stocking them, they're gone," he says of the sterile females.

Anyone with an interest in the lake is invited to attend a meeting in White Lake Hall at 7 p.m. today, May 21.

Several government reps and organizations will attend. It will be an opportunity for government to outline their plans and for interested stakeholders and residents to ask questions.



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