Bass, walleye 'invasive' fish? Potential recommendation would reclassify some sport fish, eliminate catch limits

SEATTLE -- A potential recommendation by the state's orca task force would reclassify popular sport fish like bass and walleye as 'invasive' in certain waterways, eliminating catch limits and impacting sport fishermen.

Q13 News has obtained documents containing potential recommendations that could come out of Governor Jay Inslee's task force to save southern resident orcas. The official draft report does not come out until Sept. 24, but these documents give us insight into what actions the expert working groups prioritized.

The documents contain dozens of recommendations, ranging from limiting the number of whale watching boats on the water to more tightly monitoring certain pollutants.

Prey Potential Recommendation 27 relates to limiting "walleye, bass and catfish" and other sport fish as invasive. More than 24 million salmon smolts are reportedly eaten each year by non-native sport fish, in places such as Lake Washington and the Columbia River.

The recommendation reads:

Prey Potential Recommendation 27: Request that the Governor support reclassifying non-native predatory fish including but not limited to walleye, bass, and catfish from sport fish to invasive species to allow and encourage removal of these predatory fish in the waters containing salmon or other ESA-listed species. Walleye in the Columbia River are reported to consume more than two juvenile salmon daily while bass are reported to consume more than one juvenile salmon per day. There are likely millions of these non-native predatory fish in Washington waters, including Lake Washington and other water bodies, containing salmon. Twenty-four million salmon smolts are consumed by these non-native species between McNary Dam and Priest Rapids dam. It is currently illegal to "water" sport fish in many rivers/lakes the harvest of these non-native predators is regulated by catch limits.

Current statewide regulations for freshwater game fish put a limit on daily possessions as two fish, with certain exceptions. The daily statewide limit of bass is five, and eight for walleye. It is illegal to keep more than the daily catch limit.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said reclassifying fish as invasive would get rid of catch limits, and encourage anglers to dispose of every fish they catch. It could also mean active programs to remove the fish from certain waterways.

Changing species like bass from sport fish to an invasive species could have an economic impact, according to a study released from the University of Washington in 2011. 

"The juxtaposition between smallmouth bass, the popular sportfish, and smallmouth bass, the potentially harmful non-native species, creates an unfortunate and intense conflict," the study reported.

Smallmouth bass were first introduced to Washington as a sport fish in 1925. They are among the most widespread non-native species of fish in the Pacific Northwest.

An official told Q13 News that some warm water fishermen have fought to keep these fish as sport fish, in order to maintain protections.

It was not immediately known how the fish would be impacted in waterways that don't contain salmon fry.