Retired Fisheries Biologist
Alberta was known as a place where northern pike were abundant. What has happened to the pike that were historically abundant particularly in the walleye-pike lakes?
In the 2022-23 Alberta Sportfishing Regulations zero-harvest was extended to several more walleye-pike lakes including Lesser Slave Lake, one of Alberta’s largest lakes (100km length and 119,267 ha). If a zero limit is deemed necessary on Lesser Slave Lake, this is indeed a troublesome fisheries management red flag that needs to be addressed.
The zero-harvest limit for pike already occurs in numerous other large Alberta “walleye-pike” lakes, including Lac La Biche, Pigeon, Wabamun, Newell, Lac Ste. Anne, Heart, Calling, Wolf, Moose, Seibert, Beaver, Touchwood, Sturgeon, Snipe, Gull, Sylvan, Fawcett, Baptiste, Kehewin, Winefred, Gregoire, Gardiner, Smoke, Iosegun, Peerless, several reservoirs in southern Alberta and in other smaller-sized “walleye-pike” lakes.
The reduction on pike harvest limits began in 1999 when most pike daily harvest limits went to a default standard of 3>63cm and most walleye harvest limits went to zero. During the past 25 years, the pike harvest limits continually declined from the 3>63 to 1 >63 to 1>70 to 1>100 and to zero. As well, during this time period in 2014 commercial fishing in Alberta was closed so the pike bycatch is no longer an issue.
Restrictive harvesting has been occurring since 1999 and pike populations in the walleye-pike lakes have not improved. Walleye populations in many lakes have increased steadily while northern pike, yellow perch and lake whitefish numbers appear to have declined. Walleye are aggressive predators and could be negatively affecting the other populations, as shown by the government’s Fall Index Netting (FIN) sampling program and from the observations of many anglers.
In comparing the pike populations in the pike-perch lakes during the past 25 years, the pike populations appeared to be more abundant. Some of these pike-perch lakes have been managed with more liberal harvest limits including several lakes that regulate daily harvest of two or three pike of any size. These pike populations continue to be relatively abundant compared with the pike populations in the walleye-pike lakes.
Although fish habitat changes (declining water levels) are a major concern in many lakes, the difference between the walleye-pike lakes and the pike-perch lakes seems to be more related to the presence of abundant walleye than environmental factors.
What can be done to allow some pike harvest in the walleye-pike lakes? It would appear that using limited harvest of larger-sized pike does not seem to work, as evidenced during the past 25 years. As well, zero-harvest does not seem to work. Are Albertans going to face similar no-harvest of pike regulations in the long-term future?
Is there a solution to managing the pike in the walleye-pike lakes and in the pike-perch lakes? What about the following options?
1.Increase walleye harvest.
2.Manage pike and walleye with low-risk sustainable harvest regulations.
3.Manage pike in pike-perch lakes with fewer restrictions and more liberal harvest regulations.
4.Review the existing Fish Sustainability Index (FSI) that currently appears to restrict harvest more than necessary as a precautionary measure.
5.Improve or better protect fish habitat in several lakes
Without taking some actions, the harvesting of pike and other fish species appears to have a rather bleak future. It is disappointing that the consumptive use of Alberta fish as a table food may further decline and possibly disappear going forward.