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NW Fishletter #392, April 1, 2019
 Burbot Make A Comeback In Idaho's Kootenai River
Burbot--a native resident fish that had all but disappeared from the Kootenai River--have made a comeback.
Idaho's only burbot population was so low that the state had prohibited fishing for them since the mid-1990s. By the early 2000s, there were an estimated 50 of the fish--also known as ling cod or freshwater cod--left.
In January, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game opened the first burbot fishing season in 27 years, with a population of more than 40,000 fish, including 18,000 adults.
Work to bring them back was a joint effort by the state and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, with funding support from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) as mitigation for impacts from Libby Dam.
The tribe worked with the state and the University of Idaho to study the burbot life cycle and figure out how to develop a hatchery program. They've also transported burbot from British Columbia and released them in the Kootenai.
In 2005, Bonneville signed a memorandum of understanding to support the tribe's effort to recover the fish. After years of study, the tribe opened the Twin River Hatchery, half dedicated to burbot production and the other half to white sturgeon. The restoration targets to open a fishery, set in 2005, have now been met.
According to a news release from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, biologists will continue to work to develop a self-sustaining population of burbot in the wild, although they're facing a couple of issues. Burbot need "super cold" water to spawn, and water temperatures in the Kootenai River in February and March are often too warm, according to a news release from BPA.
Also, when conditions are cold enough, the larvae often starve due to poor food-web dynamics.
Bonneville is now supporting the tribe's efforts to improve habitat in the river's tributaries for spawning. So far, 73 acres of floodplain and 7.5 miles of river channel have been restored.
"It's all about habitat restoration, re-activating the floodplain and restoring the food chain for these fish," Kootenai Tribal fisheries biologist Shawn Young said in the release. "We aren't there yet, but we are bringing back the broken pieces of the ecosystem, and it's really benefiting burbot."
For now, the best time to fish for burbot is in February and March, when they move into shallow waters to spawn. Fishermen are allowed to catch up to six a day, with no size limits. -K.C. Mehaffey
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