Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lake Champlain Salmon Restoration Update

ChamplainSalmonOfficials from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have announced that 2014 assessment results show continued gains in the Lake Champlain landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery restoration program.

The three groups, which work together on restoration efforts as the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, reported to the press a number of highlights from recent evaluation activities that indicate further improvement to the lake’s salmon population. One primary indicator is the strength of annual spawning runs – which produced several record or near-record numbers in 2014.  Some of the key data includes:

  • 158 salmon lifted at the Winooski River Fish Lift at the Winooski One Hydroelectric Facility in Winooski, VT – the second highest number in the 22-year history of the fish lift operation.  A majority of these fish were trucked upstream and released above the Essex, VT dam for access to suitable spawning habitat.
  • Salmon spawning activity was observed for the first time at several locations in the release section of the Winooski River, and its tributary, the Huntington River.
  • Salmon lifted at the Winooski facility were in excellent health with a range of sizes – including a state record-class male salmon measuring 32 inches and weighing 14 pounds, the largest salmon ever observed from Lake Champlain in the history of the restoration program.
  • A record 724 salmon collected in Hatchery Brook at the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station in Grand Isle, VT.  Many of the salmon collected were used to provide eggs for hatchery production.
  • 139 salmon were collected in the Lamoille River below Peterson Dam – the most collected in a season since 1993.
  • 43 salmon were captured and passed upstream at the Boquet River fishway in Willsboro, NY – the most passed at this site since 2011.
  • Two other Lake Champlain tributaries not know for significant salmon runs yielded record numbers of salmon in 2014 surveys: 30 salmon in Otter Creek in Vergennes, VT, and 19 salmon in the Missisquoi River in Swanton, VT.

Additionally, data from 2014 assessments also show the lowest sea lamprey wounding rates since the long term sea lamprey control program began in 2002.   Lamprey wounds on salmon declined from 19 wounds per 100 fish in 2013 to 15 wounds per 100 fish in 2014, meeting the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative’s target wounding level for salmon. Lamprey wounds on lake trout also declined to 30 wounds per 100 fish in 2014, from 54 in 2013.

In contrast to the 2014 results, sea lamprey abundance was near its peak in 2003, as indicated by a rate of 93 wounds per 100 salmon. That year, salmon returns were very low, with only 84 collected from Hatchery Brook, 21 from the Lamoille River, and 14 from the Winooski River.

“The reduction in lamprey wounding rates indicate an overall decrease in sea lamprey abundance in Lake Champlain, and highlights the continued success and improvements in the sea lamprey control program,” Bradley Young, sea lamprey control program supervisor with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said in an announcement to the press. “Through technological advances in survey and treatment methods and the inclusion of newly identified lamprey population infestations, the control program has gained more ground and become more comprehensive in its approach.”

Photo provided: fisheries biologists with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department process landlocked Atlantic salmon from Lake Champlain during their spawning run last fall in Grand Isle, VT. Many of the salmon collected were used to provide eggs for hatchery production, one component of the Lake Champlain salmon restoration initiative.

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