Stocking lake trout is foolhardy proposition

Jeff FrischkornTrying hard to spend anglers’ dollars both the federal government and its counterpart in Ohio are embarking on a supposed lake trout reintroduction project for Lake Erie.

In November of last year, Ohio and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dumped 82,000 lake trout fingering into Lake Erie’s Western Basin off Catawba Island and another 41,300 lake trout into the Central Basin off Fairport Harbor.

This, in a two-fold scheme to help clear out lake trout from the federal government’s cold-water fish hatchery at the base of Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River near Warren, Pa.

Earlier this month the feds and Ohio took another fiscally unsound one step forward and two steps back by seeding the Western and Central basins with more lake trout, albeit ones that are a little larger.

While trying to restore any native species is a commendable approach to a healthier Lake Erie, pretty much lost in the biologists’ zeal is the fact the system is in need of more than a simple booster shot of stocking a fish species that way largely wiped out by another species.

Lake trout populations throughout the Great Lakes Basin were decimated some 50 years with the arrival of the parasitic sea lamprey, a scourge so severe that a single member of this clan will kill during its adult stage up to 40 pounds of native fishes.

And try as it might – and this effort at least is deserving of praise – efforts to control the sea lamprey require continual, on-going work. That effort is being demonstrated this month whereby streams in Ohio and Pennsylvania will be/are treated with a chemical that zaps the sea lamprey in its larval stage.

All well in good.

That being said, however, when asked why the return rates of steelhead trout into Northeast Ohio streams are so much worse today than they were a few years ago, officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife chime with a makes-sense explanation.

These fisheries experts say that the predatory feeding habits of the sea lamprey very possibly-maybe are killing off the trout while both species are sharing space in Lake Erie.

The biologists also have said that fall, rise and subsequent fall again of the lake’s bottom-hugging burbot stocks have taken a serious hit from the sea lamprey invasion.

So what does the federal government do with the full support and blessing of Ohio’s Wildlife Division?

It goes forward with stocking a highly vulnerable native fish species – in this case, lake trout into a system resplendent with an abundance of a body-juice-sucking species; in this case, the sea lamprey.

Maybe the federal government’s fish hatchery is booming with the birth and growth of a truly magnificent and native fish species, in this case, the lake trout.

However, that being said, does it really make economic sense in this day and age of tight governmental budgets to be raising and releasing what amounts to fish food for sea lampreys?

One can only wonder if fish and wildlife officials in both Washington and Columbus truly believe there are all kinds of anger dollars around to be burned.

Categories: Ohio – Jeffrey Frischkorn

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