KENAI (AP) -- The question is simple: Are northern pike a danger to the trout and salmon of the Kenai River watershed?
The answer is not so simple.
In a collective effort to gather more information on the impact of the carnivorous fish, the Kenai Watershed Forum collaborated with several government agencies and with an ice-fishing derby to find out what exactly ends in a pike's stomach. The results were surprising.
''We didn't find any salmon or trout,'' said Robert Ruffner, director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. ''I think we were all a little surprised. I think we expected to at least see some salmon and trout fry.''
The stomachs were dissected and inspected at Kenai Peninsula College last week. The contents showed that the pike were feeding on three-spine sticklebacks and freshwater shrimp.
''We didn't find any salmon or trout, Ruffner said. ''But all of the fish that we looked at came from lakes that have had pike for a number of years. There may not be many salmon or trout left in those lakes.''
This is just a first step in determining the true impact of the pike.
''Now that we have a little information, the next step is to expand on that,'' Ruffner said. ''We are looking to compare the data we collected with more data we are hoping to get in the spring.
''We are looking to get some fish from areas like the Moose River, because we have some reports of people catching them there.''
The northern pike most likely found their way into the salmon and trout habitats via ''bucket biologists,'' people who try to spice up their favorite lake by introducing a more aggressive species.
Ruffner says the practice is counterproductive.
''Take Arc Lake for an example,'' Ruffner said. ''Fish and Game used to stock it with salmon and trout, but they don't do it anymore because someone transplanted pike into the lake.''
There's no point in more stocking, he said.
''If they continue, they are just basically feeding pike.''
The information gathered at the pike-stomach dissecting session may be useful for slowing the spread of the pike, Ruffner said.
''I think there will eventually be action taken to keep pike from overrunning the salmon and trout populations,'' he said. ''What I don't know is what that scenario is going to look like. That is somewhere down the road.
''I think we are definitely going to take the next step (and gather more information),'' he said. ''We know pike are predators, and we know that they impact the salmon and trout populations. We just don't know how fast the pike population is growing and spreading.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.