Feasibility of walleye population suppression in Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Wyoming
Kaus, Daniel Joseph
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Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Wyoming is managed as a wild Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss and Cutthroat Trout Oncorhynchus clarkii fishery. Nonnative Walleyes Sander vitreus were discovered in 2008, and spring sampling of Walleye indicate natural recruitment and a rapidly expanding population. Walleyes pose a predation threat to the wild trout populations in Buffalo Bill Reservoir. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is interested in suppressing the Walleye population using mechanical removal with electrofishing and gillnetting during the Walleye spawning period. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the population demographics of Walleyes in Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Age-structured population models were used to estimate the Walleye population growth rate for scenarios with and without Walleye removal. To inform the population models, age-specific fecundity, probability of maturity, natural mortality, and fishing mortality were estimated. Mean asymptotic population growth rate for the five scenarios were estimated as 1.22 (95% CI of 1.05 to 1.37) for no suppression, 1.18 (95% CI of 1.04 to 1.32) for electrofish exploitation, 1.04 (95% CI of 0.88 to 1.19) for gill-net exploitation, 0.91 (95% CI of 0.61 to 1.36) for angler exploitation, and 0.81 (95% CI of 0.66 to 0.96) for angler and gill-net exploitation combined. Results from the age-structured population models suggest that long-term population suppression is a viable goal, and additional gill-net effort and angler harvest incentives should be pursued. During this study the density of mature Walleyes was low, indicating that the population had not yet reached carrying capacity. Analysis of population inertia indicates that the projected abundance of the initial population vector results in a lower population size compared to projected abundance of a population with stable-age distribution. Results from this study will be used to inform cost-effective management decisions regarding the future of the recreational fishery in Buffalo Bill Reservoir. The cost per mature female removed in 2017 was $490.91 and $80.08 for electrofish and gill net removal, respectively. Future suppression efforts should be monitored using population indices of age diversity for female Walleyes.