Fish board approves rotenone use in Tote Road lakes

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has the first stamp of approval for its project to eliminate the last known populations of northern pike on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Board of Fisheries on Tuesday unanimously approved the use of rotenone, a fish-killing poison, to kill northern pike in the lakes along Tote Road south of Soldotna. Fish and Game has been planning to continue its eradication efforts there as the final step in eliminating invasive pike on the Kenai Peninsula.

Kristine Dunker, the invasive species program manager for Fish and Game, said during a presentation to the board on Tuesday that the department’s main concern is how close the lakes are to Slikok Creek, which is anadromous, and that people could pull pike out of the lakes and introduce them elsewhere. In areas where they are invasive, northern pike have been known to completely eliminate populations of salmonids.

“It would be really easy for these lakes to serve as an accessible source of pike for other waters on the Kenai,” she said. “That is really what we’re trying to prevent.”

The board members signaled strong support for eliminating pike from the lakes. Board member Robert Ruffner, who said he lives near the project area, attended public scoping meetings and talked to landowners near the lakes about their concerns. Though he said he still supports the project, he said he understood some of their concerns about what would happen to the lakes.

“The request that (the landowners) had for us to consider was to try to consider that there would be a sportfishery there in the future,” he said. “I would just ask that the department consider some flexibility in monitoring that lake in the future to see if there is successful reproduction of sport fish species in the future, and if they don’t, trying to help the neighbors there.”

The approval of the rotenone is just the first of several regulatory hurdless Fish and Game has to surmount to go forward. The next will be an environmental assessment through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will be up for public review and comments, said fisheries biologist Rob Massengill, who manages the pike eradication project on the Kenai Peninsula with Fish and Game in Soldotna. After that comes another public review and comment process for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation pesticide program approval, he said.

Fish and Game held two scoping meetings for residents, one in December and one in February, where they gathered public comment as well, he said.

Right now, Fish and Game’s preferred option for restocking sport fish into the lakes after the pike eradication is to introduce wild fish for several years in the hopes that they begin naturally reproducing, said Brian Marston, the area management biologist for the Division of Sport Fish in Soldotna. If that’s not successful, after a few years, they’ll re-evaluate how to address restoring fish into those lakes.

Adding the lakes to a regular hatchery fish stocking program through Fish and Game is a concern because the public would have to be provided access. Many residents at the scoping meeting in Soldotna in December 2017 strongly opposed developing public access to the lakes.

Dunker told the Board of Fisheries that if Fish and Game receives all the necessary permits, they’ll apply rotenone in October and monitor it through the winter.

“We anticipate all permitting will conclude this summer,” she said.

The Tote Road projects are the latest in a series of pike removal projects on the central Kenai Peninsula. Pike have been present in the Soldotna Creek system east of Soldotna for decades, but Fish and Game was concerned that pike could move down the creek and into the Kenai River, thus endangering the salmon populations there and in the Moose River further upstream. Fish and Game began an extensive fish rescue and pike eradication project in the Soldotna Creek mainstem and connected lake system in 2014, wrapping up in 2016. Fish and Game has also eliminated pike in Stormy Lake north of Nikiski, Arc Lake south of Soldotna and in Scout Lake near Sterling.

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