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Eat your fill, tiger muskies
We wish good hunting, and good eating, to the newest residents of Phillips Reservoir.
These are the little fish — little for now, anyway; they can grow to 3 feet or more — with what Oregon fish biologists hope is a big appetite for yellow perch.
This latest tactic in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) anti-perch campaign is elegant in its simplicity.
Rather than labor-intensive methods such as the netting of perch that took place each spring from 2008-12, or proposals such as poisoning the entire 2,400-acre reservoir which are so controversial they’re unlikely to ever happen, with last month’s introduction of tiger muskies the state lets the fish do all the work.
And biologists say tiger muskies, a sterile hybrid of the muskie and the northern pike, are ideal for the task because they have prodigious appetites for other fish.
(They pose no threat to people, however. Tiger muskies have teeth, to be sure, but they’re not sharks.)
Because tiger muskies don’t reproduce, there’s no risk that by releasing the fish in Phillips, ODFW will simply be replacing one problem species with another.
If tiger muskies eradicate perch — a process that under the most optimistic scenario would take several years — ODFW can simply allow the tiger muskie population to gradually die off.
And anglers might get a chance to hook a trophy tiger muskie (for now, though, it’s catch-and-release only for tiger muskies).
Something needs to be done, certainly, about the perch in Phillips.
Maybe the only thing more satisfying than ridding the reservoir of these spiny panfish is identifying the person, or people, who released perch into the reservoir and holding them accountable, if possible, for the mess they created.
That illegal introduction of perch, which probably happened around 25 years ago, has nearly ruined the rainbow trout fishery for which Phillips was renowned.
During the 1970s and 1980s the reservoir, on the Powder River about 17 miles southwest of Baker City, was the region’s most popular spot for trout fishing, attracting almost 38,000 angler trips per year, according to ODFW. The agency estimates that fishing there generated about $1.5 million each year for Baker County’s economy.
Since then, with perch replacing trout as the predominant fish in Phillips, angler visits have dropped by more than 90 percent, to about 3,100 in 2010.
Perch, which reproduce faster than trout, have hogged the large zooplankton that are a major food source for both fish species.
The anglers have spoken, and loudly: They want trout, not perch.
We hope the tiger muskies, by satisfying their appetites, can also satisfy that demand.