Instead of eliminating them altogether, members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are strategically reducing the population each year, allowing other species to thrive once more.

Bud Bras and his friends used to fish for bull trout in Montana’s Flathead Lake in the 1950s and 1960s, long before they were designated a protected species. They were a lean, clean-tasting fish that the Bras family liked to bake and pan-fry.

Casting from the shore, Bras would almost always go home with a haul.

“You could always plan on catching bull trout,” said Bras. “Once in a while you might get skunked, but not very often.”

One thing Bras never fished for was lake trout. There weren’t enough of them.

“There were hardly any lake trout in the ‘50s and ‘60s in that lake,” Bras said. “We called them ‘mackinaw’ then. All those years of fishing, we only caught one mack.”

That has all changed now.

Mackinaw, now more commonly known as lake trout, propel themselves through cold, freshwater habitats using a prominently forked tail fin, catching light on their speckled flanks. Spawning in the rocky substrate of lake shorelines and growing up to 42 pounds, these greenish-black char fish tend to rise quickly to the top of the food chain.

Introduced to the lake by Montana state officials in 1905, the lake trout population has exploded at the expense of native species. Lake trout preyed on bull trout, and nearly decimated their population in Flathead Lake. Once a prominent fish across the region, bull trout have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1999, thanks to factors like damming, habitat loss, and in the case of Flathead Lake, the presence of non-native species. Meanwhile, the population of lake trout aged one year and older was estimated to be 1.5 million as of 2012.

Fortunately for the bull trout in Flathead Lake, someone is looking out for them. The southern half of the lake sits on the Flathead Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (CSKT). The bull trout is culturally significant to the CSKT, so the tribes came up with a plan to save them—by turning their predators into food.

Read the full article about protecting native fish species by Lena Beck at The Counter.