Beginning in mid-February, local residents may see biologists ice fishing on Moyie Lake, an important part of their efforts to recover the Kootenay burbot population.
Residents may see selective ice- or boat-based fishing and the presence of large coolers filled with water to temporarily hold burbot prior to releasing them back into the lake.
The work is in support of a collaborative research plan involving Canada and the United States aimed at restoring the burbot, a freshwater groundfish species distantly related to the ling cod, which is of special concern in the Kootenay Lake and Kootenay River. Biologists will be capturing wild burbot in Moyie Lake to monitor stock levels and harvest eggs from up to 30 female burbot. These eggs will be taken to hatcheries and the juvenile burbot will ultimately be released into the Kootenay River later in the year.
Moyie Lake has a stable burbot population, recently estimated at between 4,000 and 10,000 adults. Eggs that are collected here and raised for release currently provide the only source of recruitment for the Kootenay River burbot population, which remains at significant risk of becoming extinct in that region.
The February field work is one part of a larger collaborative plan to restore burbot to the Kootenay River that is now showing significant promise. Prior to reintroduction efforts, the wild Kootenay River burbot population was estimated at fewer than 50 adults. However, hatchery releases between 2009 and 2012 (produced from eggs collected at Moyie Lake) have increased this estimate to 375 adults capable of breeding and nearly 6,300 sub-adults currently growing to maturity.
• Burbot are found in Canada and northern locations in the U.S. and Eurasia. Efforts to restore burbot populations are underway around the globe, particularly in the southern reaches of areas of their habitat (including southern British Columbia and Idaho).
• Changes to habitat as early as the 1920s and a significant international fishery through the 1960s and 1970s resulted in severe declines and ultimately the closure of the fishery.
• In previous years, the number of burbot captured in Moyie Lake for the program ranged from 181 to 554 (2009-12). In 2012, 238 burbot were captured.
• Restoration efforts are co-ordinated through the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, a cross-border group with representation from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, University of Idaho and other international partners.