By Robert Lucke
Meals on Wheels is not just a program for Havre citizens. It is also a program for Fresno fish. And Havre area Fish, Wildlife and Parks' fish biologist, Kent Gilge, is the chief chef.
"The forage base at Fresno has become marginal for feeding," Gilge said. "The available predators (and those predator numbers include walleye and northern pike) are high. The walleye population grew very large during the last decade and they outstripped the available food which is made up partly of yellow perch and spottail shiner."
Not only that, but the adult populations of perch declined drastically in 1999 and then the drought of 2001 reduced numbers even more in Fresno, Gilge related.
"The department (Montana FWP) compiled an environmental assessment investigating the potential of introducing an additional forage species into Fresno Reservoir," Gilge continued. "The assessment did not find a fish that was a good fit' for the reservoir and so for the time being, the preferred action is to supplement the existing perch population by transplanting large numbers of presprawning adult perch into Fresno to take advantage of spawning habitat that is provided in great quantities usually following drought years."
And as luck would have it, there were large numbers of perch in western Montana that needed to be moved.
"An action plan has been implemented to move prespawning adult perch from Lake Mary Ronan where they are currently conducting a perch removal project following an illegal introduction of perch," Gilge related. "In early May about 30,000 perch were transplanted from there into Fresno. In addition, about 7,600 perch were relocated from Beaver Creek Reservoir and Bailey Reservoir into Fresno."
Water levels in Fresno caused some problems with the great perch move.
"Though the transplanting went well, water levels did not rise sufficiently to cover most available spawning habitat and so production for those fish would be expected to be low," Gilge said. "It is important to note that you cannot hand feed large predator populations and therefore, there is not a true meals of wheels' program. It is the progeny of these planted fish that will eventually feed the large numbers of predator fish."
Still, though, the program will be ongoing.
"Though we encountered less than ideal conditions for achieving our goal in 2001, we will repeat the program in 2002, anticipating a full reservoir and we will begin the rebuilding process," Gilge said.
Meanwhile Fresno's predator fish are eyeing the 37,000 perch, wondering just when lunch is being served.