The Future of Lake Ontario is in it’s Tributaries April 24, 2017 – Posted in: Community

A few months back, I wrote a post that shared a really well thought message about the state of New York’s Salmon River, put together by local angler and shop owner, Malinda Barna.  Having personally witnessed the mass die-off of Steelhead that happened on the river a few years back, this was (and remains) a serious issue of great importance to me and other anglers.  As area anglers fear the worst, and western fisheries take lessons away from the circumstances that have led to this, it’s more important than ever for our community to rally behind methods that can help the Salmon – and other cherished fisheries around the world. As the following Q & A update details, the answers may be simpler than you think… Scott

MALINDA BARNA, March 25, 2017

Most everyone that has anything to do with Lake Ontario has seen the decrease of the Pacific Salmon and Steelhead populations in the last few years. The fishery is falling fast and unlike the decreases seen in the mid 90’s (primarily from over-harvesting), this time it’s different.

I’ve been asked a multitude of questions about what we can do.  Here are some questions and answers.

Q. Why not stock more fish?

A. There isn’t enough baitfish.

Q. Why not stock more baitfish?

A. Baitfish stocking is possible but only to bolster current populations. If every hatchery in New York State raised nothing but bait, it would last the predators of Lake Ontario one week. Also, there is not enough food (phytoplankton, diporea, etc) for much greater amounts of bait than is already available.

Q. Where have the phytoplankton, etc gone?

A. Quagga and Zebra mussels are the culprits. Mussels are filter- feeders, they eat these “bottom of the food chain species” and also filter-out the nutrients that these species need to live and propagate.

Q. Why not kill the mussels?

A. That would be great! Unfortunately, there currently is no way to control or eradicate these mussels in the wild.

Q. So why not add nutrients to Lake Ontario to feed phytoplankton, etc?

A. We would be feeding the mussels also, and by looking at the past history of Lake Ontario since their accidental introduction in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s it would be practical to assume that the mussels would get the greatest benefit and thereby possibly make the problem worse.

Q. How could it be worse?

A. These mussels eat “edible phytoplankton” and spit out the “bad phytoplankton”. These inedible algae are what cause toxic algae blooms. They also are becoming the more dominate algae species because they are not eaten. Increasing mussel numbers will also increase this problem. Also, these mussels are already issues for water intake and outlets going into and out of Lake Ontario. Think of the problems for Power Plants, Water and Sewage treatment plants, manufacturing that needs water, etc, etc.

Q. Is this the end of Lake Ontario’s fishery?

A. I don’t believe so. Although it is definitely different than 30 or even 10 years ago. I believe that nature has come to some stability in the last couple of years. I think a tenuous balance has been reached at the bottom of the food chain. It will, of course, have ups and downs since it is a highly dynamic system.

Q. Where do you think the fishery is headed?

A. I believe that the future of Lake Ontario is in its tributaries.

Q. Why do you think the tributaries are Lake Ontario’s future?

A. Lake Charters have been the focus of NYS Lake Ontario stocking practices but since the late 1990’s the tributaries have seen increasing numbers of anglers. Even to the extent that the Salmon River alone exceeded the entire Lake Boat fishery (not just charters) in 2012. Also, in 2015, the DEC recorded the second lowest number of lake boat fishermen. It seems logical that lake boat fishermen won’t want to spend $500 or more on a trip that nets them only one or two fish for an entire day. The tributaries can be managed so that the few fish remaining can provide reasonable catches for anglers and maintain profitable businesses.

Q. How can the tributaries be managed to achieve this?

A. The only management tool available is “targeted areas” of Catch and Release for Steelhead, Brown Trout and Atlantic Salmon. Catch and Release can help maintain a tributary population of fish to provide enough for both anglers and businesses. Eventually, there may be only enough resources in the lake to provide stocking for a few streams but, the DEC knows the primary streams to do that with.

Q. What about Catch and Release for Chinook and Coho?

A. No. These species only spawn once and then die. For the people who wish to keep a fish for eating, these are it.

Q. If Catch and Release is the best answer than why is there opposition to its implementation?

A. Typically, I think it is just misunderstanding. Here are some reasons that people have told me they don’t want Catch and Release.

  1. Catch and Release is for wild spawning propagation.

    Not True. Because of the stress of fish being caught many times a “No Fishing” regulation is better for wild spawning fish.

  2. Catch and Release is just another way to restrict fishermen.

    Not True.  In areas such as on the Salmon River in Upstate NY, where the numbers of fishermen are larger than the numbers of fish in the river; Catch and Release allows more fish to stay in the river for longer periods of time. Steelhead Season on the Salmon River can start in September and last through May (9months). In the 2016/2017 season, the majority of Steelhead that entered the river were taken during a 3 week period between the third week of October and the second week of November (we had unfishable water the last week of October). We had no appreciable numbers of Steelhead enter the river after that until the first week of March. 3 ½ months of no numbers of fish in the river and no fishermen. Businesses are starting to starve. This is the 3rd season of poor Salmon and Steelhead returns. The Steelhead that would have sustained the river system for 4 ½ months, lasted 3 weeks. The harvesting of fish is the restriction.

  3. Catch and Release doesn’t allow for those who want to have a “trophy” fish.

    Not True. A dead fish is no longer needed for a “trophy”. Most mounts these days are made of fiberglass. A picture of your fish next to your rod will give a good gauge of size, color and shape.

  4. Catch and Release for “elitists”.

    Not True. I never thought of “Bass Masters” as elitists. Or carp fishermen. So why are those that fish for Steelhead, Brown Trout, or Atlantic Salmon? I believe that because Bass and Carp are more available that they are seen as less “elitist” species. The vast majority of people that come to fish the Lake Ontario Tributaries are hard-working, middle-class people.

  5. I paid for a fishing license and I want to keep fish.

    There are many hundreds of miles of tributaries and the Eastern Shore of Lake Ontario. We are talking about only part of 2 or 3 streams (approx. 10-15 miles total) to be made Catch and Release. Those who wish to keep fish can go to any of these other areas to keep Steelhead, Brown Trout, or Atlantic Salmon. Also, the Catch and Release regulation would not apply to Pacific Salmon.

  6. A Catch and Release regulation would be too difficult to enforce.

    Actually, it would be easier to enforce than the current 1 fish limit on Steelhead, Brown Trout, and Atlantic Salmon. Poachers have found too many ways around the one fish limit. A no fish limit would be easier to enforce. If someone has a fish on the shoreline or outside of the vehicle in any of the areas where it is designated Catch and Release, they get a ticket.

  7. The DEC states that: “Angler harvest in tributaries doesn’t appear high enough to negatively impact fishing success. Department creel surveys indicate relatively high release rates for trout and salmon caught in the tributaries, especially for steelhead trout and brown trout (87% and 93% respectively, for the 2015/2016 season), indicating a “no kill” regulation is not warranted.

    If that is true then why are less and less fishermen coming to our rivers to fish?

  8. Catch and Release fish have a high mortality rate.

    These fish will just go to waste. Not True. While there is some mortality on Caught and Released fish (an average of 10% says,there are many places around the world that show that fishermen educated on how to properly release fish have lower mortality. Also, fish that do die become food for other fish, crayfish, eagles and osprey, and host of other animals. Not to mention the nutrients from these fish are recycled back into the ecosystem. The studies on the Tongass Forest (Bear Forest) on the southeast coast of Alaska show how the nutrients from their salmon runs are found in all the plants as well as the animals. Decayed fish become nourishment for the entire ecosystem.

I hope that this answers many of the questions that fisherman and policy makers have concerning the tributaries of Lake Ontario. We no longer have to fish just to sustain ourselves and our families.

Fishing can teach us to be better stewards of our planet and how to be more affable and tolerant towards one another. We fish to connect with nature and to forget our troubles for a short time.

To learn more or offer your support, please contact Malinda at (315) 298-2993

Whether your a local – a visitor – or someone who has never been, this is a fight that needs voices. Please share yours to help the Salmon River!!!



The Commissioner
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-1010

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