Throwing money down the pike hole in Alaska

Scott Woodham


TO: Southcentral Alaska's Pike
SUBJECT: Your future cost

Dear Non-native Northern Pike,

We The Concerned hope you're having a nice winter because as soon as the ice melts, things are going to get crazy. And we don't mean your spawning season. You're going to have a heck of a time trying to stay alive, especially if you live in Southcentral Alaska's Alexander Creek drainage. Luckily for you, you're really good at staying alive when humans want you dead.

0113-moneypikeYou might not be aware of it, but you don't belong in areas south and east of the Alaska Range, and you've been affecting salmon returns in Alexander Creek, which used to be a prime area for salmon sport fishing. We don't really blame you. We blame the humans who thought they were doing you a favor by moving you around.

No matter who's to blame, the state is about to spend a big chunk of change on you.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Division recently got a $635,000 matching grant from the Sustainable Salmon Fund to ratchet up a four-year-long program aimed at improving the numbers of sport fish in the Alexander Creek drainage, tracking your movements, and assessing the abundance of its juvenile king salmon. The grant was made possible by a general fund legislative appropriation, and Fish and Game regional supervisor Jim Hasbrouck told us in an e-mail that the Alexander Creek program is fully funded and that the Sport Fish Division intends to spend at least $965,000 on the effort over four years, beginning in 2011.

Before you get all excited about an effort to increase the numbers of "sport fish," that refers salmon and others, not you. You're actually going to be tracked and targeted by an intense gillnetting effort to dramatically reduce your numbers on the Alexander. And let's face it, though you're delicious, fun to catch, and your heads look totally awesome hanging on fences to dry out, you're not exactly in high demand as a sport species among Alaskans or visitors.

We're concerned, of course about all this. Salmon are very important to Alaska's economy, after all, and invasive species threaten an ecosystem's balance. But we're more concerned about how resistant you have proven over decades to eradication efforts around the world. More than a few of us are afraid the state of Alaska is about to commit itself to many years of throwing money down the pike hole.

Studies of pike eradication in Europe have indicated that short-lived pike eradication efforts have been observed to actually create a net increase in the pike biomass in a given habitat. Scientists concluded that targeting pike intensely in one year, or every few years, actually decreases the competition faced by smaller pike, which pose more of a threat to salmon fry.

Several studies in England have also found that after recovering from an initial post-cull drop, your population rebounds, often beyond what it was before the culling. Basically, an affected waterway is left with more, smaller pike. Multiple studies indicate that the most successful pike eradication efforts are sustained across many years and include a focus on small pike.

Large pike apparently aren't as great a threat to young salmon as smaller pike are because large pike cannibalize smaller pike, in effect helping humans out. Which could be one reason why you're so resistant to current efforts to control your population in Southcentral. The bag limits on you in your non-native range have been outrageously high or non-existent for a while now, and Fish and Game has been doing practically everything to get Alaskans to kill as many of you as they can. But anglers tend to use gear that selects for large individuals. None of us The Concerned have seen anyone fishing for little invasive pike with cute little treble hooks.

In fact, we've rarely seen people in Southcentral fishing for you at all. The state doesn't seem to have plans to change that. There hasn't been much marketing of pike fishing tourism (and Scandinavia would love to know about certain unlimited bag limits). Game regulations don't require people who live near water you mistakenly infest to send in a few of your heads to be eligible for king salmon tags. Southcentral boroughs haven't declared a new pike-fishing holiday to give everyone a three-day weekend. And the state doesn't allow people to fulfill court-mandated public service hours or work-release by catching you.

We're pretty sure that Fish and Game knows it has a tough job getting rid of you. Unfortunately, the major alternatives (like poison, weirs, traps or dynamite) could harm salmon, as discussed in the pike control program's plan (.pdf). And one California community has already discovered that burning you in effigy has no effect on your numbers at all.

So, the alternative to spending lots of state money trying to kill you are pretty thin. And we're concerned that money could be used for greater effect, say, for Yukon River kings. But that's not a sport fishery, is it?

At first, we thought we'd try to warn you about the danger you're about to face next year. After all, a four-year plan with lots of gillnets sounds really serious. But then we realized: Gillnets target large pike, and four years will be over before you know it. And as many Fish and Game biologists who know you stand a good chance of surviving the onslaught, there are likely many more legislators and governors who think you won't.

Maybe then the state will just give up, hand Alexander Creek drainage over to you, and start buying ad space in Scandinavian versions of Field and Stream.

Rock and Roll,
The Concerned