KENAI - Tim McKinley has declared war on the Kenai Peninsula's northern pike.
Using 120-foot gillnets, the biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game has removed about 1,400 pike from East and West Mackey lakes just north of Soldotna.
He's fighting back against a non-native fish that in 30 years has eliminated virtually every other living thing in the lakes.
"I doubt we'll ever get them all," McKinley said Wednesday after picking his nets on West Mackey Lake. "If we could get them mostly or completely out of this drainage, that would be fantastic."
The pike are believed to have been introduced to the lakes in the 1960s by an area resident who may have brought them from the Interior, where they are native.
First found in Derks Lake, it is believed they made their way to the Mackeys, Sevena, Union, Tree and Denise lakes by seasonal water channels.
They've managed to colonize at least 10 lakes and likely more on the Kenai Peninsula. They've eliminated healthy populations of trout and salmon, and it's feared they may make it into the Kenai River, one of the state's most important salmon streams.
Following a summer-long netting project - in which he commonly nabbed more than 100 fish from a lake - McKinley has seen a decrease of pike.
Netting efforts lately have been getting fewer and smaller pike. Pike can weigh as much as 30 pounds or more, but survivors long ago devoured all the native fish and now are living on leaches and insect larvae.
But it's unclear how much of the invasive population he's eliminated.
"We've probably taken more than 10 percent. But we probably haven't taken more than 70 percent out," McKinley said. "I know that's not much of an estimate, but we just don't know."
What is also unclear is whether funding will be available to continue the eradication project.
Fish and Game is able to continue the netting project with a $25,000 grant from Fish America. A previous project to assess the population in the lakes was funded by a coastal grant program from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But state money is hard to come by, so he's got to rely on grants and volunteers to keep the project afloat.
"If we can get them out of here, if we still have time and funds, we would pursue eradicating them in some of the landlocked lakes as well," he said.
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