By Crystal Thompson
A public meeting was held in Havre Tuesday night to discuss the Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluating the possible introduction of various forage fish into Fresno Reservoir.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has actively managed the Fresno fishery since the early 1940s. Walleye and northern pike are currently the two top predators in the Fresno system.
Fresno is currently managed as a walleye fishery. According to FWP history provided in the assessment, walleye were introduced in 1957 and had established a self-sustaining population by the mid 1960s. By the late 1960s the reservoir had become top-heavy with walleye and northern pike, which resulted in a dramatic decline in the forage fish abundance. Introductions of emerald shiners and yellow perch were made at this time to improve and diversify the forage base.
However, seine catches of emerald shiners remained low into the early 1980s, and spottail shiners were introduced as an alternative forage fish in 1984. Because spottail spawn on sandy shoals, they were thought to be better suited to the fluctuating water levels in Fresno. No new forage fish have been introduced since the introduction of spottail shiners in 1984.
Kent Gilge, Area Fisheries Biologist at the FWP said that as of now there are no immediate plans to introduce a new forage species to Fresno. Low water levels could potentially sabotage any forage fish introduction or enhancement efforts. The preferred alternative, as stated in the Environmental Assessment is to introduce a number of pre-spawn adult yellow perch to utilize Fresno's extensive shoreline vegetation, which is a result of recent drought conditions.
"This is not a feeding program," Gilge said, addressing the idea that the perch are being deposited into the lake as food for the walleye and pike. Gilge said that the FWP hopes to see an explosion in the perch population over the next few years to jumpstart the forage base at Fresno.