Funds scarce for Dragon Lake invasive goldfish project

Province wants to protect million-dollar trout fishery

A ministry request for funding to help control invasive goldfish in Dragon Lake has been denied by the City of Quesnel and the Cariboo Regional District.

At its CRD board meeting June 19, the CRD said it will forward a letter requesting the issue remain ministry-funded after the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development asked for a financial contribution from the CRD for goldfish management in Dragon Lake near Quesnel.

In its letter to the City and the CRD, Russell Bobrowski, fisheries biologist for the Cariboo Region with MFLNRORD, said the goldfish, which were illegally introduced into Dragon Lake in 2009, pose a considerable threat to the recreational fishery, which generates approximately $1 million in annual economic expenditures.

Aside from $15,000 from the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. (FFSBC) for the next three years to reduce goldfish numbers in Dragon Lake and protect the recreational fishery, the ministry was asking for another $10,000 per year from the City and, or CRD.

“From the perspective of the CRD, wildlife management is a provincial jurisdiction and we’d be reluctant to start taking on provincial responsibilities in that area,” said Chris Keam, CRD manager of communications. “In terms of the money, we’re trying to be fiscally prudent for our residents … where would we be if all of a sudden that became a regional district responsibility? Looking at all the different fish that show up in different lakes, it would get expensive very fast.”

Bobrowski, meanwhile, said ministry funds were intended to be contributed, however, funding cutbacks forced them to look elsewhere.

The project, titled Dragon Lake Goldfish Control and Assessment, will look to complete multiple project objectives including evaluating the feasibility of using boat electrofishing to control goldfish numbers.

The project also looks to collect information on the abundance, mortality and population structure of goldfish; produce a report after year four describing a 15-year plan to maintain low goldfish densities and, in general, provide an overview of the project’s effectiveness in restoring the lake to its previous recreational opportunities.

According to project information sent out in its proposal, in 2019 Dragon Lake supported thousands of mature goldfish up to 30 centimetres in length.

“Their diet overlaps significantly with rainbow trout,” the report states. “Risk assessments have been initiated and although the likelihood of substantial impacts to the rainbow trout population are uncertain, there remains possibility that this valuable fish population could be significantly impacted.”

The current management approach uses information from RISC gillnetting — most recently done in 2017 and scheduled for 2020 — annual biological data updates from hatchery operations and angler reports to monitor potential impacts to the rainbow trout populations.

Detailed assessment of the goldfish population has not occurred, the report states, noting an assessment of the goldfish population has not been conducted prior to 2019 and is not cost effective for government staff.

Dragon Lake, the ministry said, is a valuable resource both regionally and provincially offering a recreational fishery popular for its reputation of large, rainbow trout and high catch rates.

“This fishery results in approximately 8,500 angler days annually and is an important contributor to the local and regional economy, especially considering the economic downturn in the forest industry (reduced logging and mill closures or shift reduction in Chasm, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Quesnel),” the report states.

Dragon Lake also hosts a FFSBC egg take station which produces nearly 50 per cent of the rainbow trout stocked into B.C. lakes. The FFSBC said there is not another lake that could replace Dragon Lake if issues arose in returns to the egg station.

READ MORE: Electrofishing nets close to 7,000 goldfish

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