Category Archives: Lake Life

Life on and in Lake Champlain

Family of Canada Geese swimming in Lake Champlain

Family of Canada Geese swimming in Lake Champlain at Alburgh, Vermont

Family of Canada Geese swimming in Lake Champlain

I grabbed a quick shot of this family of Canada Geese swimming in Lake Champlain at Alburgh, Vermont on June 15, 2017.

 

 

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Vermont Fish Biologists Recapture Lake Sturgeon First Caught in 1998

Biologists recapture lake sturgeon first studied in 1998, study and re-release it 19 years later

 

Vermont Fish Biologists Recapture Lake Sturgeon First Caught in 1998

 

Vermont Fish & Wildlife staffers received a pleasant surprise recently while performing survey work on Lake Champlain when they recaptured a 48-year old lake sturgeon that biologists first studied and tagged nearly two decades ago.

The male sturgeon weighed 69 pounds and measured 66.1 inches when it was first caught and tagged in 1998. This May it weighed in at 78 pounds and had a total length of 67.5 inches at the time of the most recent capture.

“We first saw this fish in 1998 when it was roughly 29 years old,” said Chet MacKenzie, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “It’s a really interesting story to see this fish 19 years later, and another great example of the incredible longevity that the species is known for. We recaptured this fish several times between 1998 and 2002, This year we implanted an acoustic tag which will allow us to follow its movements for up to 10 years.”

Vermont Fish & Wildlife sturgeon monitoring activities are part of the Department’s Lake Champlain Sturgeon Recovery Plan – enacted in 2016. The plan includes efforts to reduce mortality of lake sturgeon, improve spawning and nursery habitat and continue population assessment work.

 

Biologists Remind Anglers That Lake Sturgeon are Protected

Vermont Fish Biologists Recapture Lake Sturgeon First Caught in 1998Lake sturgeon are an endangered species in the State of Vermont and are protected from harvest. In Vermont lake sturgeon are only found in Lake Champlain and the lower reaches of the Winooski, Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers, and Otter Creek. Lake Champlain has the only lake sturgeon population in New England.

The fish were once more common in Lake Champlain, but declined rapidly in the 20th century due to over fishing, the loss of spawning and nursery habitat caused by the construction of dams and sea lamprey predation. They are a unique, ancient form of fish that were first given complete protection by law in 1967. (Read more about the lake sturgeon at: A Dinosaur Among Us- The Lake Sturgeon and Lake Sturgeon Thunder)

“We’d like to remind anglers that sturgeon are fully protected by Vermont law and any sturgeon caught must be released immediately,” said MacKenzie. “Harvesting a lake sturgeon would result in the loss of an angler’s fish and wildlife licenses in Vermont and most other states for up to three years, in addition to various potential fines.”

MacKenzie encouraged anglers to help with the Lake Champlain sturgeon restoration effort by minimizing injuries to any accidentally caught sturgeon.

“If by chance an angler catches a sturgeon, we ask that they leave the sturgeon in the water and remove the hook if the fish is hooked in the mouth, but cut the line and leave the hook in place if the hook is swallowed. Anglers can also help by choosing to change fishing locations or using a different bait in the event that they catch multiple sturgeon in a particular area.”

Vermont Fish & Wildlife urges anglers to help population recovery efforts by reporting any sturgeon they catch to the Department at 802-878-1564, or by contacting their local fish and game warden or district office. Information obtained about sturgeon catches can be valuable to the Department’s sampling efforts and to monitoring the trend in sturgeon abundance over time.

Anglers and members of the public are also asked to report illegal sturgeon harvest to law enforcement immediately by calling their local warden, a state police dispatch center or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-752-5378.

To learn more about Vermont’s fisheries programs, fishing regulations, or to purchase a fishing license, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

 

Other Articles on the Fish of Lake Champlain:    

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restoration

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restoration

Invasive species causing a thiamine deficiency in salmon, hindering their ability to reproduce naturally

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restoration

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Zach Eisenhauer holds 11-pound salmon he trapped on the Boquet River during a fish survey.

For years, biologists have worked to improve conditions for the native fish in Lake Champlain. They’ve removed old dams to help spawning salmon migrate up rivers and reduced the population of sea lampreys that prey on salmon and lake trout.

Now scientists are trying to fully understand how salmon are impacted by alewives, an invasive species that has become one of the main sources of food for salmon.

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restorationAlewives were first discovered in Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay in 2003. Since then, their numbers have skyrocketed. They’ve replaced native rainbow smelt as the main forage fish for Lake Champlain’s predators, and they’re likely here to stay.

“There’s not much we can do to manage alewives,” said Lance Durfey, a fisheries manager with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “They are going to do what they are going to do, and the fish are going to use them as a prey base.”

 

Alewives, which are found from Newfoundland to North Carolina, are a type of herring that grows up to fifteen inches in length. They dwell in the Atlantic Ocean and spawn in coastal rivers. They are categorized as a “species of concern” (slightly at risk) by the National Marine Fisheries Service in their native habitat, but their numbers are high in many lakes where they aren’t native.

 

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restoration

Lake Champlain alewife die-off

 

Alewives have been spreading to inland lakes, particularly the Great Lakes, for decades. They occasionally die in large numbers when spawning in non-native waters in the spring. At times, the shores on Lake Champlain have been lined with hundreds of the dead fish. Reasons for these die-offs may include weakness from a lack of winter food and the temperature shock of moving from deep, cold water to warmer spawning waters.

 

Alewives threaten Champlain salmon restoration

Lake Champlain alewife die-off

 

Lake Champlain is stocked with salmon, but has not had a self-sustaining population for two hundred years. Scientists are trying to nurture the population back to health, but alewives undermine those efforts by interfering with the reproductive cycle of salmon.

Alewives posess an enzyme that kills thiamine, or vitamin B1, in fish that prey on them. Since salmon consume a lot of alewives, scientists say, they end up with a deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1. As a result, salmon have trouble reproducing and maintaining a population naturally.

Salmon that eat alewives may grow large and appear healthy, but a shortage of vitamin B1 in their eggs leads to problems for hatchlings.

“They have development abnormalities associated with the low vitamin B1, and they can’t orient very well in the water column and they get very lethargic,” said Bill Ardren, a senior biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It can cause really high mortality.”

Ardren said the deficiency can be overcome in hatcheries by bathing salmon eggs in a thiamine solution for thirty minutes.

Ardren also said there is evidence that low thiamine levels impact spawning adult salmon. A recent study on the Boquet River in New York showed that spawning salmon injected with thiamine were more persistent in attempts to get up cascades to their spawning ground than those salmon injected with water, which acted as a placebo.

Some salmon may be able to overcome the thiamine deficiency and the species may evolve to cope with it. Last summer college students found evidence that salmon were reproducing in the watershed.

He also said that scientists have noticed a lot of “redds,” places where salmon lay eggs in gravel, in the Winooski River in Vermont and the Boquet River. “But we are not seeing as many fry [young fish] come out of those redds as we would expect,” Ardren said.

That could be a consequence of the vitamin B1 deficiency. Or it could be the result of another problem yet undiscovered. That seems to be the case with lake trout, another large predator that eats alewives, according to Ellen Marsden, a professor at the University of Vermont at Burlington, who has studied the lake trout in Lake Champlain for twenty years.

She recently challenged the longstanding theory that alewives are interfering with the reproduction of lake trout, noting that it had been tested in hatcheries but not in the wild. “Our new hypothesis is that lake trout could get plenty of thiamine in their diet to make up stuff they are missing in the wild before they need it,” she said.

She said lake trout may get enough thiamine from zooplankton, a type of alga, soon after emerging from eggs, offsetting the deficiency at birth. She noted that the number of juvenile lake trout in the lake seems to have increased in the last few years.

 

Other Articles on the Fish of Lake Champlain:    

 

NY DEC Asks Anglers to Avoid Spawning Lake Sturgeon

DEC Asks Anglers to Avoid Spawning Lake Sturgeon While Fishing in New York Waters

State-Led Lake Sturgeon Recovery Efforts Show Signs of Success

Sturgeon DEC Asks Anglers to Avoid Spawning Lake Sturgeon While Fishing in New York Waters

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking anglers to avoid spawning lake sturgeon. Typically during this time of year, DEC receives multiple reports of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) caught by anglers fishing for walleye and other species.

Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “DEC and our partners are engaged in ongoing efforts to restore lake sturgeon to New York’s waters. Encounters between anglers and lake sturgeon are becoming increasingly common and we ask anglers to help protect these impressive fish during this critical period in their recovery.”

Lake Sturgeon are a threatened species in New York. Therefore, there is no open fishing season and possession is prohibited. Anglers are likely to encounter sturgeon during the spring when the fish gather to spawn on clean gravel or cobble shoals and in stream rapids. Sturgeon spawn in New York State in May and June when water temperatures reach 55 to 64°F. Anglers should not intentionally target these protected fish. If an angler catches a sturgeon, they should fish another area or change fishing gear to avoid catching another.

DEC Asks Anglers to Avoid Spawning Lake Sturgeon While Fishing in New York Waters

 

Anglers who unintentionally hook one should follow these practices to make sure the fish are returned to the water unharmed:

  • Avoid bringing the fish into the boat if possible;
  • Use pliers to remove the hook. Sturgeon are almost always hooked in the mouth;
  • Always support the fish horizontally. Do not hold sturgeon in a vertical position by their head, gills, or tails;
  • Never touch their eyes or gills; and
  • Minimize their time out of the water and return the fish to the water immediately once freed from fishing gear.

 

Stocking is a key strategy in lake sturgeon recovery. DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have periodically stocked young sturgeon into various waters of New York since 1995. Adult lake sturgeon are captured in the St. Lawrence River and their fertilized eggs reared at DEC’s Oneida Hatchery and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery. These fish are raised to a size of about six inches before stocking, which dramatically increases their chances of survival in the wild. Lake sturgeon are New York’s largest freshwater fish and can grow up to seven feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.

“Lake sturgeon stocked in the 1990s are just beginning to contribute to the natural reproduction,” said Lisa Holst, Rare Fish Unit Leader for DEC. “Restoration of rare species takes time, but due to good science, patience and partnerships these great fish are making a comeback.”

In the wild, male lake sturgeon take eight to 12 years to mature, and females take 14 to as many as 33 years. In 2016, field biologists from DEC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured lake sturgeon of wild origin from five different year classes from the Oswegatchie River. In addition, research biologists from Cornell’s Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake captured three wild lake sturgeon from two different year classes in 2016. They had previously captured a single wild sturgeon in 2013. “All of these captures indicate to us we are on the right track,” said Ms. Holst.

An update to the lake sturgeon recovery plan is projected to be finalized in late 2017.

For more information on lake sturgeon, visit DEC’s website, the U.S. Fish and wildlife site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/sturgeon/ (leaves DEC’s website) or contact DEC’s Rare Fish Unit Leader, Lisa Holst at (518) 402-8897.


Other Lake Champlain Fishing Articles:

Watch Out for Frogs, Salamanders by Roads

Watch Out for Frogs, Salamanders by Roads

 

Be On the Lookout for Frogs, Salamanders by Roads

 

A great wildlife migration is happening now in Vermont, and it’s taking place right at our feet.

You may have already heard the spring peepers or wood frogs calling in your backyard. Or perhaps you’ve noticed salamanders crawling over rocks in a nearby stream. Amphibians are on the move, but their spring breeding migration can too often become deadly.

Amphibians migrate by the thousands each spring in search of breeding pools. This migration often takes them across roads and highways where they are killed by cars, which contributes to the species’ decline in Vermont, according to biologist Jens Hilke with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

“Frogs and salamanders become active on rainy spring nights,” said Hilke. “On these nights, drivers should slow down on roads near ponds and wetlands, or try to use an alternate route. These amphibian ‘hotspots’ can lead to the death of thousands of animals on a single night.” 

 

Hilke is asking drivers to report these hotspots, or areas with large numbers of frogs and salamanders that cross the road all at once. They can contact the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas by emailing Jim Andrews at jandrews@middlebury.edu.

“We work hard to identify these hotspots and to mitigate the problem whenever possible to help give these animals a better chance of survival,” said Hilke. 

The Fish & Wildlife Department is working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation to include culverts and wildlife barriers in road construction plans to allow wildlife, from frogs to moose, to more safely cross the road. The town of Monkton has completed a highway project aimed at providing amphibians with a safe way to cross under the road. 

Conservation officials and volunteers also work together on rainy spring nights to slow traffic and manually move amphibians across the road.

Vermonters who want to give to the Fish & Wildlife Department’s work to help frogs and amphibians can donate to the Nongame Wildlife Fund on line 29 of their state income tax form.

 

Other Lake Champlain Wildlife Articles: