Monday, December 12, 2011

State blames sea lampreys for steelhead losses

While Northeast Ohio steelhead anglers are grumbling about a seemingly lack of trout the Ohio Division of Wildlife maintains that the stocking rate remains at goal levels.

However, once the stocked fish are released and enter Lake Erie they are facing a life-threatening gauntlet by the flesh-eating, invasive sea lamprey.

In terms of stocking trout, though, only this past spring was the Wildlife Division unable to reach its targeted goal of 400,000 fish. These fish are released into the Huron, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers along with Conneaut Creek.

“So the only thing that anglers might not be see are more ‘skippers,’” said Kevin
Kayle, manager of the Wildlife Division’s Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station and also the agency’s steelhead program administrator.

In fact, Kayle says, the agency stocked 433,000 trout in 2010, 458,000 steelhead in 2009, and 465,000 fish in 2008.

Of chief concern for trout mortality, says Kayle, is the high population of adult sea lampreys that call Lake Erie home.

This invasive fish species prefers such soft-rayed fish as trout. A lamprey has a round mouth with a series of curved teeth that are used to attach the pest to the side of a fish. The lamprey then feasts on its host’s flesh.

“We have been seeing a higher incidence of lamprey-wounding rates on both our steelhead and also lake trout,” “Before anyone goes and starts trashing our Little Manistee-strain of steelhead this is really a regional issue, too Our counterparts in Pennsylvania and New York are seeing the same thing.”

Asked if there are any answers or solutions to the problem, Kayle said that intensive sea lamprey control is a must.

“We just can’t let up and continue to be diligent,” Kayle said.
In this regards Kayle said he’s unsure about possible 2012 treatments since that work is performed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“And we’ll be meeting with them later this winter,” he said.

Kayle said also that Canadian commercial fishermen can’t sell what steelhead they do catch and thus have to go out of their way to avoid this species.
Other contributors to the generally lack of stellar steelhead fishing this year has been - and continues to be - the weather.

“Certainly this year’s poor weather conditions factored into the equation,” Kayle said. “It was just miserable last spring.”

The massive appearance of green algae blooms in Lake Erie may “have some influence on distribution of the steelhead” but likely did not contribute to any die-off of fish,” Kayle says.

“We’re continuing to monitor where it pops up in the summer but right now we don’t believe that it has any impact on steelhead morality,” he said.
Kayle did say that the agency’s creel clerks have been seeing a “lot of big fish; steelhead in the 12- to 15-pound class.”

“These fish have probably been swimming around Lake Erie for the past three or four years,” Kayle said.

As for the future of the state’s steelhead stocking and management program, the $5 million to $7 million improvements at the Wildlife Division’s Castalia coldwater hatchery are nearly complete, Kayle says also

“These improvements will allow us to have better quality control over the steelhead that we do raise and will also allow us to raise all of our steelhead eggs instead of relying on Michigan where we once got both eggs and advanced fry,” Kayle said.

“They were of variable size and that complicated matters.”

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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