IFPAG has members from all over the state, including eastern Washington. Yesterday's (Nov. 19, 2011) IFPAG meeting in Ephrata was attended by 10 of the 15 members, plus several WDFW staff including Craig Burley (Fish Program manager), Bruce Bolding (warmwater manager), and Charmaine Ashbrook (sport rules process).
WDFW has characterized its proposed redesignation of northern pike from "game fish" to "prohibited species" as a "housekeeping" measure intended to resolve conflicting definitions in the sport fishing rules. I don't think it will have any legal effect on existing sport fishing practices for pike at POR. You will still be able to fish for pike, and to practice C&R if you choose. State law specifcally says anglers are allowed to release "prohibited" species of fish back to the waters they were caught from. But to POR's pike anglers, this proposed rule symbolizes the change in WDFW's attitude toward pike that evolved in response to POR's burgeoning pike population.
To recap, a few years ago WDFW responded to angler requests to manage POR pike as a trophy sport fishery by saying they wanted to conduct field studies before adopting regulations. Since then, WDFW and Kalispell tribal biologists have worked together to gather field data, and WDFW and the tribe now both consider pike an invasive species that pose a threat to native fish. WDFW fish managers say they would like to eradicate POR's pike, but they don't believe that's possible, so their goal is to keep them from spreading to other waters. This mindset is now entrenched at WDFW and won't change in the foreseeable future, so further efforts by sport anglers to get WDFW to manage pike as a sport fishery is tilting at windwills.
At yesterday's meeting, I read the question asked by Yankin Jaw Guide Service's in a comment above to the group, and asked for the other members' response. They all said they support WDFW's pike policy. In private conversation afterward, several told me they like to catch large, exciting fish as much as we do, and it's clear to me they don't want to deprive anyone of their sport fishery. But IFPAG's members have always supported scientific management of our fisheries, and we're all aware of the huge efforts and expenditures being made by federal, state, and local governments and tribes to preserve and restore Washington's declining native fish populations. We don't want these efforts undermined by a non-native fish getting out of control.
Unlike tiger muskies, which are sterile, northern pike can reproduce in the wild. In contrast to tiger muskies, whose population is very small and confined to isolated waters selected by WDFW biologists, northeastern Washington's northern pike are in a river system connected to the Columbia River. They're also prolific reproducers and voracious eaters, so they do pose a threat to native fish, especially if they spread from the POR to other waters. In other states invaded by northern pike, they've tended to take over the lakes and rivers they get into and crowd out other fish species. These systems eventually become overrun with small "hammer handles," and the large pike of interest to sport anglers also get crowded out.
In terms of where we go from here, you'll continue to be able to fish for POR pike, but the state won't protect large pike from harvest. That protection has never existed, so you're not losing anything you ever had as a result of this rule change. The most important thing for anglers to do is not transport these fish to other waters, and to report anyone seen doing that. WDFW will be more inclined to peacefully coexist with POR's pike if we all work together to keep the number of illegal "bucket biology" incidents at zero.