By Jenny Neyman
The good news is that nets deployed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last fall in four lakes in Soldotna were successful in catching more than 2,000 invasive pike. The bad news is that last week, as ice melted out of the lakes, the nets caught some nontargeted, noninvasive species, too.
“We did have one eagle entangled, and that was released from the nets. There was eight golden-eye ducks and one bufflehead duck in four of the lakes that were harvested,” said Robert Begich, area management biologist for Fish and Game.
Fish and Game decided to winter fish East and West Mackey, Derk’s and Union lakes as a way to combat the invasive pike population, which has decimated native fish species.
“The reason why we wanted to net underneath the ice is that during the wintertime the female pike, the larger ones, move quite a bit, more so than they
do in the summertime. And when the ice just starts to get thin, right at ice out, basically, is when pike spawn and move into the shallows, so we wanted to capitalize on that and then knock pike back during that time period,” Begich said.
The nets went in just before freeze-up and were meant to come out right at ice out, but the timing of the thaw didn’t happen as expected.
“This year, peninsulawide, it was about a week to 10 days earlier than normal. Stuff started to loosen up on the 28th. Mackey went out on Wednesday and Thursday,” he said.
Fish and Game retrieved the nets Thursday and Friday, after an area resident reported that waterfowl were being drowned and an eagle was ensnared, and pulled three nets onto shore.
“Some of the nets were still frozen so it was hard to get at them,” Begich said. “It’s a surprise for us, we don’t like to catch birds.”
Nets won’t be deployed during the summer, Begich said, so as to prevent further incidental capture and to not interfere with summertime recreational use of the lakes.
Come September, the next stage in the pike remediation project will happen — application of a fish pesticide, called rotenone, to East and West Mackey, Union and Derk’s lakes, to kill the pike. The lakes have already been sampled to relocate any native fish species managing to survive the pike infestation, and measured for volume to determine the amount of pesticide that will be used. The necessary permits have been approved and the public information process has been held. At this point all that’s left is application of the rotenone, which has been tested safe to be used around humans.
Begich said that Fish and Game is working with the Kenai Watershed Forum on connectivity between the lakes, staging culverts to be replaced and fish-passage barriers to be installed. Next spring Fish and Game will start rescuing native fish from the other lakes in the drainage to be treated, and Soldotna Creek, he said.
“And then the native species that are in the rest of the drainage will be stocked back into these lakes. If it works out like it has in Scout and Arc and Stormy lakes (also having been treated with rotenone), it shouldn’t take long for the fish to re-colonize and come back,” he said.