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by | October 14, 2021

KP-CISMA Partners Tackle the Last Holdout of Northern Pike on the Kenai Peninsula

First discovered in the Soldotna Creek watershed on the Kenai Peninsula in the 1970s, it didn’t take long for non-native, invasive northern pike to spread to several other waterbodies on the peninsula. Over the last two decades, northern pike (which were illegally introduced to Southcentral Alaska) have successfully been eradicated from 23 waterbodies on the peninsula. Currently, KP-CISMA partners are working to remove northern pike from the fish’s final known holdout – Miller Creek, located on the northern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, about 40 miles northeast of Nikiski.

In Alaska, northern pike (Esox lucius) are native to areas north and west of the Alaska Range, where they play an important role in the ecosystem and are popular among both recreational and subsistence anglers. But when introduced to an area where they don’t naturally live, like Southcentral Alaska, their presence can devastate native fish populations and disrupt the natural balance of the ecosystem. Aggressive predators, pike can consume massive amounts of fish, even wiping out local fish populations altogether. And, while they coexist with salmon in their native range, their unchecked encroachment on the Kenai Peninsula could seriously jeopardize the local salmon culture and economy. Because pike thrive in slow-moving, vegetated waters, the Kenai Peninsula’s expansive wetlands have historically been very favorable to their rapid spread.

Northern pike prefer thickly-vegetated waters

Northern pike were first discovered in the Miller Creek watershed in 2019. Since then, multiple agencies and interest groups, including many KP-CISMA partners, have banded together to strategize and plan for the timely removal of the invasive pike from the complex and interconnected watershed. The eradication process is currently underway!

To begin the process, the entry and exit points of the infested area of Miller Creek were blocked off, as were the associated pike-infested lakes (Vogel and Upper Vogel lakes) to restrict the movement of fish – both the native fish and the invasive pike. Then, beginning September 24, 2021, the native fish were collected and transported to nearby holding ponds, where they will remain for the winter.

In October, a field crew will return to begin a four to five-day Rotenone* treatment. They will follow the treatment with a period of intensive surveying to ensure that all pike have been removed. Once eradication is confirmed and the water tested and shown to be safe for the native fish, the blockades will be removed. Stickleback, sculpin, rainbow trout, and juvenile coho salmon will return to a pike-free habitat, and next summer’s native runs of salmon will face one less struggle on their reproductive journey.

Dead fish with silver scales and yellowish spots lies on its side on green grass. A mass of many tiny silver fish pour out of the fish's belly, which is cut open.
Northern pike consume massive amounts of native fish. This pike was caught with a bellyful of juvenile salmon. Photo courtesy of ADFG

The aim, of course, is to extirpate northern pike on the Kenai Peninsula. However, it’s always possible for pike to be re-introduced, by accident or on purpose. To help prevent the introduction and spread of northern pike, do not move fish from one waterbody to another or stock any waterbody with northern pike – it’s illegal! If you spot northern pike on the Kenai Peninsula (or any location outside their native range), report your sighting via ADFG’s Invasive Species Online Reporting Tool (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=invasive.report) or Hotline (1-877-INVASIV).

* Rotenone is a naturally occurring compound used in invasive fish management because it only impacts organisms with gills. Humans, waterfowl, beaver, moose, and even adult wood frogs are relatively safe from the effects of Rotenone once it’s in the water. Visit ADFG’s website for more information about Rotenone and its use in the eradication of invasive fish: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=rotenone.faq

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