Salmon face many threats these days, from warming water and difficult passage over dams, to diminished habitat for spawning.
Washington, along with federal, local and tribal governments, has already spent millions of dollars trying to address those issues. But now there’s an even newer threat that could stand to wipe out entire populations of salmon in the blink of an eye: northern pike.
Invasive, carnivorous, voracious and all around mean looking, the northern pike poses an immediate threat to other species in water bodies where it’s introduced. As an apex predator, it’s a fish that lives for one reason: to eat other fish. But it’s not picky either. Pike will also eat baby ducks, frogs, even each other.
Pike have decimated other species in stretches of the Pend Oreille River, where the few fish types remaining after dams were installed last century — such as bull trout, west slope cutthroat, and mountain white fish — happen to appeal to the invasive pike.
“If you’re shiny and have soft fins, usually you’re the first to go,” says Joe Maroney, director of fishery and water resources with the Kalispel Tribe’s Natural Resources Department.
Early counts of the fish (started around 2004) put the population around 400 in the Box Canyon Reservoir, south of Metaline Falls, but within five years, the pike population had exploded to more than 10,000, Maroney says. Meanwhile, other fish dwindled.