By Bill Hilts Jr.
As we look at 2020 in the rear-view mirror, it is time to start looking forward and hope for brighter days. No, we have not gotten rid of COVID-19, but distribution of the vaccine is underway and plans moving forward for things like our Great Lakes fisheries is headed in a positive direction.
For Lake Ontario, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery staff completed all the egg collections for Chinook and Coho salmon last fall. The final numbers were 1.6 million Chinook salmon eggs and 860,000 Coho salmon eggs, to be stocked in Lake Ontario tributaries. The Chinook eggs are hatched and will be stocked this spring (translating to roughly 850,000 fingerlings for New York waters, about 550,000 for pens), while the Coho eggs are held in the hatchery for a year and stocked in the spring of 2022 as yearlings. The Coho fall fingerling stocking program will be discontinued moving forward. Previously there were 235,000 fall fingerlings and 90,000 spring yearlings being stocked. While stockings will no longer be 325,000 fish, the reduction in numbers could still be better overall because they will all be yearlings and survival rates will be much better.
“In 2021, Lake Ontario will see status quo as far as salmon and trout stocking numbers,” noted Steve Hurst, Chief of DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries. In part, this was because DEC, U.S. Geological Survey and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry could not conduct the spring forage base survey trawls this year.
“We’ll still be able to look at both years of alewife numbers if we are able to conduct the spring forage trawls in 2021,” said Hurst. “It kills us as scientists when we can’t conduct important research like this to manage the fishery.”
In addition, the Lake Ontario Open Lake Creel Census could not be conducted either because of COVID. Plans are in place to implement both important pieces of research in 2021, making changes where necessary to deal with the virus.
“We were still able to collect important biological data on the fish, include the condition of the salmon,” says Hurst. “We conducted a diet study to look at what the fish have been eating and we continued with the Coho tagging study in 2020.”
The second year of a new Chinook salmon stocking strategy will be implemented in 2021 for Lake Ontario, good news moving forward. Salmon will once again be held in pens, another tool to help improve survival rates of the salmon.
Fishing derbies and tournaments are being planned for 2021 and hopefully they will be held in such a way to keep people safe. Notification was received from the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association in early January that the organization will have its first meeting of the year in May – its first gathering since December of 2019. Their club tournament, while it was held in 2020, will once again be held in July.
Newfane Town Supervisor Tim Horanburg could finally be seeing a dream come to reality in 2021. He has been fighting for some type of a breakwall off Olcott for over a quarter century and, thanks to the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, it looks like construction will start this year. It will be the icing on the cake for a long career that has been extremely supportive of fish and fishing. He was a big reason why Olcott was named the Ultimate Fishing Town by the World Fishing Network in 2012.
In Lake Erie, everyone felt like a deer looking into a car’s headlights when they heard the estimate in 2020 that walleye numbers were roughly 116 million fish. Thanks to a couple more good year classes, that walleye population estimate is now closer to 150 million fish. Yes, these are the good old days when it comes to walleye fishing in New York and this Great Lake is where you want to be. Catch rates should improve even more.
Cattaraugus Creek is the big tributary for Lake Erie in New York. The exciting news is that work should be underway to reduce the size of the Scoby Dam in Springville (for safety purposes) and create a fish ladder that will allow steelhead access into the upper section of the creek. This will add 30-something miles of additional access for stream casters and better habitat suitable for natural reproduction. While not everyone is in favor of this move, I think it is a great thing for the future of the fishery. Time will tell.
For the ranks of fishermen and fisherwomen who turned to fishing for relief from a pandemic, everyone should make one new resolution moving forward – become a mentor for another angler or two. It does not have to be a youngster either. Take someone fishing and educate them on how to catch fish, how behave properly by learning proper etiquette, and how to be a steward of the resource. It is a step in the right direction. Cheers to a much better and safer 2021!