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Gulls devour hatchery trout released at Sprague Lake

UPDATED: Mon., June 12, 2017

Sprague Lake along Interstate 90 on the Lincoln-Adams county line. (The Spokesman-Review)
Sprague Lake along Interstate 90 on the Lincoln-Adams county line. (The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane Fish Hatchery manager says the staff will review procedures after small trout released in Sprague Lake last week became the main course for a feeding frenzy of gulls.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when the hatchery truck pulled into Sprague Lake Resort and released rainbow fingerlings, said Rich Watson, Spokane Hatchery Complex manager. Some predation by birds is normal, he said.

But after the hatchery truck left, roughly 200 gulls swarmed to the release sight, said Mike Miotke, who has a lake cabin next to the resort.

The gulls “dove repeatedly over the next nine hours gorging on the lake’s future,” he said in an email. “It is best described as an all-day slaughter of a confused and disoriented part of the lake’s stocking.”

Miotke suggested that a dusk or nighttime release would have saved thousands of the fish.

Watson agreed with Miotke’s observation and said he was upset at the apparent loss of fish.

The hatchery used to make some of its Sprague Lake releases at night to avoid bird predation but backed off in recent years because of overtime and budget tightening. Night releases will be reconsidered for at least some of the lake’s trout releases if scheduled when gulls are nesting in the area, he said.

The department uses the resort access at the east end of the lake instead of the state’s public launch at the west end of the lake because it is so close to the island gulls use for nesting, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman.

The 100,000 fry and fingerlings reserved for Sprague Lake from the Spokane Hatchery are usually stocked in multiple releases in May, Watson said.

In this case, because of scheduling changes, two trucks with 50,000 fry and fingerlings apiece unloaded their fish, said Randy Osborne, WDFW district fisheries biologist.

In addition to the 100,000 fry-fingerlings stocked by the Spokane region, an additional 150,000 spring fry were stocked earlier by the Ephrata region hatchery, Osborne said.

“When looking at it as a whole, the overall impact of the gulls is not as bad as it might appear,” he said. “That incident won’t decimate the population.”

On top of that, larger trout up to a half-pound each are released into Sprague in March and April, he said.

“We are confident that most of the fry stocked last week, and certainly the 20,000 larger fish that went into the lake in March and April, are still in the lake,” Luers said. “But losing any sizable amount of fish to gulls like this is not acceptable.”

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