On March 15, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative – a working group of fisheries professionals from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – announced the decision to further reduce the number of stocked lake trout released annually. This decision was prompted by the continued increase in natural reproduction and the documentation of multiple age classes of wild fish.
A stocking program was established in the 1950s to restore lake trout in Lake Champlain following the loss of native populations due to water quality and habitat changes. Although the lake was stocked with 82,000 fin clipped fish annually, there is little evidence of successful natural reproduction during the first 60 years of this program.
In the last 12 years, University of Vermont researchers documented an increasing number of unclipped juvenile lake trout, suggesting successful natural reproduction and the establishment of a wild population. Additionally, surveys conducted by the Cooperative since 2020 reported an increasing percentage of unclipped juvenile lake trout exceeding the threshold established in the Strategic Plan for Lake Champlain Fisheries for reducing stocking.
In response to increasing wild reproduction, the Cooperative reduced lake trout stocking by 33 percent in 2021, to avoid overstocking and maintain quality trout populations. Results from the 2022 assessment again indicate that the percentage of wild fish is above the established threshold for further stocking reduction. Sea lamprey wounding rates for lake trout have also met the Cooperative’s target of less than 25 wounds per 100 fish. In response to this data, the Cooperative decided to reduce the 2024 lake trout stocking by 50 percent and plan to stock 41,000 lake trout in fall of 2023. Current Lake Champlain stocking levels of other salmonid species (landlocked Atlantic Salmon, brown trout, and steelhead) will remain the same.
Members of the Cooperative, along with University of Vermont researchers, will continue conducting annual assessments and data collection to guide future decisions.
The observations of increasing wild lake trout production in Lake Champlain is exciting news and a testament to the progress being made toward the restoration of a self-sustaining lake trout population. This is a positive sign for the future of the lake’s ecology and the Lake Champlain fishing community will greatly benefit from these realized improvements.
For more information on the trend of increasing wild lake trout in the lake and the Strategic Plan for Lake Champlain Fisheries, view the Fisheries technical Committee’s Annual Report.