Bad-case scenarios unfolding for western New York stocking, ice boom, fishing

Here it is the end of April and beginning of May. The highest temperatures forecast for the next week don’t even reach 60 degrees for western New York. Fishing is starting on Lake Erie, but there’s still too much ice around and the ice boom is only partially open due to ice thickness and other problems. It limits accessibility and is keeping the water cold in the eastern portion of the lake and on through the Niagara River.

Another problem is those cold Niagara River temperatures. Stocking in the river has been extremely limited because water temperatures are more than 10 degrees lower than the hatchery and the stocking trucks. If trout and salmon were stocked into water temperatures that could be as much as 15 degrees lower, it could kill those fish prematurely. Stocking into the river is now being held off until early May, including 75,000 salmon meant for the pen rearing project in Youngstown.

This raises another question of what this will do to the salmon by holding them longer in the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. Will they be more likely to imprint to that waterway instead of the intended process of imprinting to the Niagara River? That is a question that cannot be answered because chinook salmon are no longer being clipped and tagged, in part because of an ongoing study on coho salmon and because they don’t have qualified people able to do the work in the special $1 million tagging trailer that was purchased through Natural Resources Damage funds collected from Occidental Chemical years ago.

A decision was made this year in Niagara County to take 10,000 of the Niagara River salmon that were to be direct stocked and move them to Wilson to that pen project. Some 5,000 kings would remain at the river for a new tank project, an experiment that could lead to a new way of holding salmon that could ultimately allow officials to control the water temperature and allow for the salmon stockings at a much earlier date. Let’s hope it works.

The first pen project to receive stockings in Niagara was supposed to be the Olcott pens run by the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association. At first, they were told that they would only receive a small portion of their pen allotment. When an angry LOTSA President Joe Yaeger contacted DEC, by the time the conversation was over they were going to be getting most of their fish on the scheduled date. They would be short a few thousand fish, which would be added to the Wilson project. They were okay with that.

When the delivery date came, though, they were short nearly 15,000 fish. Another phone call ensued, with the only explanation being that the fish simply weren’t ready to leave the hatchery due to the smaller size of the fish. Wilson would be the site to receive the make-up amount. After receiving its first stocking of 10,000 salmon in 25 years in 2018, the Wilson Harbor project would be receiving around 35,000 kings in 2019 if all goes as planned.

Back to the Niagara River. The colder water temperatures could be having an impact on the annual smelt run in the river every April. A post this morning showed a massive amount of ice in the Niagara River at Youngstown and this is only the tip of the iceberg, quite literally.

A more serious complication is the fact that local charter captains are cancelling trips left and right. Spring is a prime time for salmon, trout, bass and walleye between the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario. Huge ice fields pose a serious problem for boaters in the river and in the eastern basin of Lake Erie.

The ice boom, which was started in the early 1960s at the head of the river between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario to help control the flow of ice coming through the Niagara River and help minimize shoreline damages (such as docks), continues to be a bone of contention for many anglers. This year, after some serious wind events piled ice up high along the eastern shoreline late in the winter, a big portion of the boom was ice-locked. The New York Power Authority can’t seem to break away the boom from the ice to allow a freer flow of the remaining chunks of hard water. It was limiting access to fishing in the eastern part of the lake, too. It will probably extend those problems well into May.

Perch started hitting off Cattaraugus Creek recently but only one launch ramp was open at Cattaraugus Creek. By 10 a.m. on Monday, they were stopping vehicles from launching due to the fact the lot was full. Sturgeon Point, normally a popular access point for the early perch action, was still socked in with ice this past week. Now more than ever, after the best walleye fishing in the modern history of the lake, it is evident that more and better access is needed to take advantage of more than 45 million walleyes that currently take up residence, with the state opener on May 4 this year.

One other consideration involves Lake Ontario and the potential of high water levels, again. In the last two weeks, the water levels have risen by more than half a foot and anglers, landowners and shoreline communities are bracing for another possible event after the tragedy of 2017. Could it happen again? Plan 2014 appears to be rearing its ugly head again and the International Joint Commission is in a state of flux. Only two members currently sit on the board and a total of four are needed to convene and vote. The entire board has six members – three from the U.S. and three from Canada.

With spring yet to arrive, some big fishing contests on the horizon and pen rearing projects trying to make the most of the current situation, there is some hope for the fishing this year on Lake O. Some big kings are being consistently caught from one of the lake to the other. It looks like it will be a great follow-up to last year’s record catch rates. Let’s pray the future holds just as much promise.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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