Fish biologists are catching and releasing burbot on Kootenay Lake until June 7 as part of recovery efforts for the Lower Kootenay burbot population.
The annual spring trapping program allows biologists to monitor and re-evaluate lake population targets. Traps are set in shallow waters along the shorelines of the main body and upper west arm of Kootenay Lake.
The traps are marked with numbered, orange buoys labelled “fish research,” approximately 0.46 metres (1.5 feet) in diameter. These buoys should not be confused with the main lake buoys, approximately 0.91 metres (3 feet) in diameter, which mark anchored telemetry receivers used to track tagged fish movements.
The Lower Kootenay burbot population was once a popular sport and subsistence fishery in Kootenay Lake and Kootenay River, as well as throughout its range in Idaho and Montana. The population was recognized to be at risk of local extinction during the mid-1990s and was provincially red listed in 2004.
The ministry is collaborating on recovery efforts with international partners, including the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Idaho Fish and Game, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the University of Idaho.
Since 2009, as part of the Lower Kootenay burbot recovery program, fertilized eggs from Moyie Lake have been successfully raised in a hatchery in Idaho and released back into Kootenay Lake and Kootenay River. In 2018, the recovery team confirmed the first case of successful in-river spawning. As of 2019, the river population surpassed the target of 17,500 adults. This prompted Idaho Fish and Game to open the burbot fishery in the U.S. portion of Kootenay River in 2019.
Provincial biologists are closely monitoring and evaluating the establishment and growth of the population and will consider a river fishery in the future if the population remains stable. The current population target for Kootenay Lake is 20,000 adult burbot by 2028, which will involve releasing approximately 60,000 juveniles per year.