The Northern Pikeminnow is a large native minnow species of the mountain West. These fierce-fighting cyprinids are a hoot to catch on almost any tackle. Owing to their large mouths and streamlined shape, they can attack most any bait presented. They are a beautiful and sporty quarry for both fly and spin anglers.
In some areas, Northern Pikeminnow are viewed as a nuisance because they prey on salmon eggs and fry. In fact, some government agencies have endorsed the paying of bounties on Northern Pikeminnow to try to reduce their numbers.
This is a misguided policy for a number of reasons, but chiefly because it encourages anglers to practice vigilante fisheries management through the wanton destruction and waste of native fish species nationwide. It sends the message that it's helpful and effective to kill any fish you don't like. That's obviously an erroneous and potentially dangerous viewpoint that, if applied to other species, often leads to truly reprehensible and unsportsmanlike behavior. We at roughfish.com have been fighting against the extremely pervasive public mentality that "if you catch a roughfish, you should kill it" for decades.
The effectiveness of this tactic is also highly suspect. An independant scientific analysis of the program clearly shows that this policy has a minimal effect on the survival of salmon smolts (Hankin 2000). Furthermore, it has nowhere been established that smolt survival is even a limiting factor in salmon recovery. Even if smolt survival in freshwater was indeed the limiting factor, Northern Pikeminnow are not even the main predatory culprit (as demonstrated in this paper).
What makes this travesty even more ridiculous is that fish-eating birds are clearly bigger killers of salmon than pikeminnows, yet the idea of a "sport-reward" season where citizens would be paid bounties for killing kingfishers, otters, mink, and herons would be seen as laughably barbaric. Yet that's exactly what they're doing to the pikeminnow, even though there's no evidence that it helps the salmon at all.
The problem with the salmon population isn't that they are being eaten by pikeminnows. The problem with the salmon population is that we built gigantic concrete dams across all of the salmon rivers.
As of 2013, this "Sport Reward" fishery is now being used by salmonid anglers elsewhere to justify the killing of any and all Sacramento Pikeminnow and Colorado Pikeminnow that they catch, not to mention the other native chubs and minnows that are often referred to as "Squawfish", such as the Roundtail, Humpback, Utah, and Headwater Chub. I have even seen anglers killing whitefish (including mountain whitefish, round whitefish, and lake whitefish) because they were told they were "squawfish" that "needed" to be eradicated to "help" the salmon. This is disgusting and wasteful. Local fishing forums point to the pikeminnow-killing sport-reward system and say "See, the government wants us to kill pikeminnows or squawfish (or non-salmonids in general) because they're bad for the salmon." This is a terrible policy. The natural resource managers who authorized this sport-reward fishery should be profoundly ashamed of themselves.
Lastly, from a financial standpoint, this program costs over $3 million dollars per year. The effect is to destroy about 100,000 northern pikeminnows per year, at a cost to the public of $30 per fish. If the pikeminnows really are a threat to the salmon, then a single electrofishing crew could be hired for around $100,000 per summer to do the same job at $1 per fish, saving the taxpayers around three million dollars per year.
The sport-reward fishery should be ended immediately. It's doing a lot of harm, costs a ridiculous amount of money, and isn't effecting salmon recovery at all.