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State and tribe differ on numbers of Lake Coeur d'Alene kokanee 6-21-07

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to catch kokanee in Lake Coeur d'Alene in August to find out if the fish are declining, which could cause the season for the prized sport fish to end early this year.

Last year, the state closed the kokanee season in the northern two-thirds of the lake in September after discovering the population had dropped from 1.5 million to about 67,000.

The state catch limit on kokanee is six fish. But the fishing season on the southern third of the lake is controlled by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, which says kokanee numbers are strong in that part of the lake and allows anglers to keep 25 fish.

“If people are constantly taking 25 fish, it becomes an issue how to manage the kokanee,” Chip Corsi, regional supervisor for the department, told The Spokesman-Review.

Tribal fishing licenses cost $25 for the season or $5 per day. Quanah Spencer, spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, said the number of season licenses sold this year is down to 687 compared to 805 at this time last year.

“The tribe shares an interest inherent in protecting resources,” said Spencer. “But until the state comes up with more numbers for the southern portion, we are going to be geared to the restoration of our native species.”

He said the tribe wants to restore west slope cutthroat trout, a traditional food source, which the kokanee could be competing with.

Ned Horner, regional fishery manager for Fish and Game, said the 25-fish limit could be harming the population because of the kokanee's life cycle in the lake.

He said the kokanee, which are landlocked sockeye salmon, gather in the southern part of the lake in April and May, then work their way north to spawn in the fall, after which they die. He said fishing pressure in the southern part of the lake could be denting the population before the fish can reproduce.

“The bottom line is we need to save enough spawners to produce enough young for future fisheries,” Horner said.

Fish and Game officials last year tried to reduce the number of predators in the lake by destroying 57 chinook spawning beds.

“Kokanee are a pretty resilient species if you give them a chance,” said Corsi.
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