More protections proposed for lake trout

Lake trout will get some extra protection if proposed changes to the Yukon Wildlife Act become law.

Lake trout will get some extra protection if proposed changes to the Yukon Wildlife Act become law.

The changes would lower, and in some cases eliminate completely, the number of lake trout that can be taken from six Yukon lakes.

Five of the lakes – Fox, Frenchman, Kusawa and the two Twin Lakes – are at Yukon campgrounds.

Fish there are either being caught at an unsustainable rate or show signs of heading in that direction, said Oliver Barker, Environment Yukon’s senior fisheries biologist.

How many fish can be taken from a lake while keeping the population healthy is determined by its size, depth, temperature and the amount of nutrients you find there, Barker explained.

“So a large warm lake with a lot of nutrients will produce more fish per year than a small cold lake without a lot of nutrients. You can think of it kind of like a garden.”

In Fox Lake, Environment Yukon is proposing limiting anglers to only one lake trout per day.

That’s down from a daily limit of three and a possession limit – the number of fish you can have including in your freezer – of six.

Under the new regulations, fishers are prohibited from keeping trout any longer than 65 cm.

Barker said keeping the big fish in the lake is important for breeding and because it takes so long for them to get that size.

“Lake trout are the oldest thing Yukoners eat by far,” he said. “They can live well into their 40s. They don’t get big enough to keep until they’re 10 or 12.”

To keep the population of Fox Lake sustainable, Environment Yukon says the ideal harvest is no more than 190 kilograms per year, assuming a healthy lake trout population.

A 2013 survey of anglers estimated the summer catch at 215 kilograms.

Barker says that estimate is likely low because it only looks at fish caught in the summer and doesn’t account for subsistence fishing by First Nations.

Things are even worse in the Twin Lakes.

Optimal sustainable yield for West Twin – the larger of the two lakes is 18 kilograms per years. East Twin is set at nine kilograms.

In 2013 the department found that 45 kilograms of fish were taken from West Twin. The department doesn’t have numbers for East Twin, but Barker suspects the harvest would also have been higher than is sustainable.

The fish need a break, he said. Under the proposed changes, all trout caught from Twin Lakes would have to be released.

The same goes for Frenchman Lake. Under the proposed changes no one could keep any trout.

Netting surveys of Frenchman Lake, where environment staff counts fish they catch at various depths, show that the density of fish in the lake has dropped.

Although harvest rates are below what is considered sustainable levels, it’s likely not because people are fishing less, Barker said. It’s because there are fewer fish in the water.

Kusawa Lake, where the government proposes dropping the daily limit from three to two and the possession limit from six to two, is right on the edge of what is considered sustainable, Barker said.

The number of anglers on the lake is increasing and studies show they are harvesting a higher percentage of the larger fish compared to the overall population.

The idea is to make a small change before things get bad, Barker said.

Another fish-related change comes from the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

They are proposing closing fishing in Tower Bay on Dezadeash Lake every year from July 1 to Aug. 15.

There has been a noticeable decrease in subsistence catches of lake trout and Whitefish, according to the proposal.

Lake trout tend to congregate in one area during the hottest part of the summer making, them more susceptible to fishing pressures, the First Nations say.

Closing the bay would protect the trout during that short time but allow people to fish in other parts of the lake.

Other recommended changes would ban hunting using drones, and open the bison hunt to bow hunters.

Still others include a fee increase for moose and caribou seals, updated standards for archery equipment, introduction of a permit hunt for Dall sheep in Game Management Zone 7, a limited permit hunt for bull moose in designated game management zones in Carmacks, and an alignment of season dates for the Yukon’s woodland caribou herds.

The public has until Nov. 27 to comment on the proposed changes.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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