Lake Ontario fishery remains in a good ‘state’

Lockport, N.Y. — Lake Ontario continues to offer up some great trout and salmon fishing, in both the lake and its tributaries, officials said at an annual State of the Lake meeting here last month.

The three-hour meeting that was extended by an additional hour to answer questions and go in-depth on the management of the lake. In addition to the DEC, other management agencies at the table included the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

A full report for Lake Ontario was to be posted on the DEC website (www.dec.ny.gov) in the near future, officials said.

DEC’s Great Lakes Supervisor Steve LaPan outlined a series of new fishing regulations that are being proposed and which will be up for a 45-day public comment period in August. Sportsmen, however, can weigh in on the proposals now by email at fwfishlo@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Among the proposals is an increase in the minimum size for muskie to 54 inches in the Great Lakes; allowing single, double or treble hooks on floating lures in the tributaries outside of the Salmon River; extending the prohibition of weight below the lure to all tributaries; and making a bigger section of the Genesee River subject to tributary regulations. Details can be found on the DEC website.

LaPan also spoke on the new sporting license fee structure, which includes some reduced fees and also makes a fishing license good for one year from the date of purchase.

That prompted several questions from the audience. With the new licensing system in place, there is still no provision for determining where nonresident fishing license buyers are fishing – a loss from the standpoint of marketing and promotion efforts from the counties. In addition, over 200 license-issuing agents that have opted out of offering that service, making it tougher to purchase a license in some areas.

Mike Waterhouse of Orleans County Tourism asked about a marketing plan for the new license fee structure, stating that he had not talked to one person out of state at trade shows who had even heard about the change, LaPan said there was none and his division isn’t really responsible for that.

Prey fish update

Brian Weidel of the USGS gave an overview of the status of the forage base. Alewife abundance was similar to 2012. However, 2013 showed the largest number of yearling alewives ever recorded in the history of the monitoring. Weidel said, however, a die-off is expected this year because of the severe winter conditions. Smelt abundance was also stable. Round-nosed gobies now dominate the benthic prey fish community and have become an important source of food for species like brown trout, as well as other species of fish, such as smallmouth bass.
Salmon solid

DEC fisheries biologist Mike Connerton gave an overview on natural reproduction and salmon growth. Salmon size didn’t change much in 2013 when compared with previous years and the long-term average. One of the gauges used is the condition of a 36-inch, three-year-old fish and the results were about average. Young of the year chinook salmon from the Salmon River are assessed each spring and 2013 was an average year as far as fish collected in the seine nets. Numbers were slightly below the mean peak catch for the last decade. Natural reproduction appears to be more of a benefit to the open lake fishery than they realized, officials said. Three of four fish returning to the Salmon River last fall were wild fish. A mass marking study on chinook salmon took place from 2008 to 2011 in both New York and Ontario. Recovery of the information will continue to 2015. So far that effort has been able to determine that of the 2-year-old fish in the lake, 33 percent were wild; 70 percent of the three-year-old fish were wild; and 88 percent of the four-year-olds were wild. Most of the natural reproduction has been coming from the Salmon River.

When the western tributaries were assessed, 7 percent of the 2-year-old fish were wild; 9 percent of 3-year-olds; and none of the 4-year-olds were wild. In comparison, the Salmon River saw 58 percent of age two fish as wild; 82 percent of age three kings were wild; and 90 percent of age four fish did not come from the hatchery. There is a relatively small amount of “straying” going on – fish returning to the

Salmon River that were stocked elsewhere – according to Connerton. Only 7.6 percent stray from other sites and return to the Salmon River. Of the fish stocked at the Salmon River, 79 percent returned there.

Regarding the large run of salmon seen in 2013 at Twelve Mile Creek in Wilson last fall (which is not a stocking site for salmon), Connerton said they analyzed a bunch of the fish and they determined they were a mix of Niagara River and Eighteen Mile fish. A pen-rearing study will be ongoing to determine the success of pen-reared chinook versus Salmon River direct stock fish. This will continue to 2017.

With limited results from 2010 only, the recovery ratio was nearly double from pen-reared fish versus direct stock, 1.7 to 1 recovery ratio.

Lake creek census

DEC fisheries biologist Jana Lantry gave an overview of a program she is directly involved with. The catch rates for trout and salmon on a charter boat was the fourth best ever in the 29-year history of the data collection. Charter boats averaged 8.4 fish per trip, while the average recreational angler boated 2.4 fish per trip. The statistics also showed chinook salmon fishing continues to be very good. Anglers have experienced 11 consecutive years of quality king fishing. Brown trout fishing was down last year but still well above the long-term average. That said, it did drop from third to fourth on the numbers list, overtaken by lake trout. Lakers saw a catch increase in 2013 to its highest in 10 years. The steelhead catch was also near record levels for the sixth consecutive year. The coho catch was 32 percent below the long-term average.

In terms of numbers, the chinook salmon was tops, followed by the steelhead.

Lantry also assessed smallmouth bass numbers and after an all-time low, they have seen three consecutive years of increasing catch rates. Despite the positive news, fishing effort for bass was at an all-time low for Lake Ontario in 2013. Fishing effort for salmon and trout remained stable at nearly 48,000 boat trips, 87 percent of all fishing trips.

Lake trout restoration

Lantry spoke on some of the work to establish self-sustaining populations of lake trout in Lake Ontario. Adult lake trout abundance has increased for six years. Lamprey wounding’s on adult fish were very near the target level of just two wounds per 100 lake trout. They have also established 19 years of wild production. It looks like the agencies responsible will be increasing the stocking of lakers to 800,000 fish to compensate for lower survival rates; they will adjust the strain composition of the fish being stocked; and they are working on restoring some native prey fish species like deep-water cisco.

Sturgeon research

Dimitry Gorsky with USFWS gave a PowerPoint presentation on the status of his work on lake sturgeon, and the numbers were very encouraging. Since 2010 when he picked the ball up from an earlier study conducted by FWS, Gorsky’s team has recorded excellent success on catching these swimming dinosaurs. In that time frame they have caught and recorded 536 unique Niagara River fish with 29 recaptures – two of which were caught more than once. Population estimates of lake sturgeon in the Niagara River system below Niagara Falls could be anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 fish.

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