Anglers got some good news about walleye and perch prospects and other topics during a State of Lake Erie meeting at the Southtowns Walleye Association clubhouse earlier this month. Along with fishery facts, attendees gained more insight on sturgeon studies, microplastics and toxic algae blooms in the lake.
Don Einhouse, state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Lake Erie Unit leader, focused on study results of catches, catch rates and angler efforts charted during the last 25 years.
A yearly angler survey conducted at boat-launch ramps and fish-cleaning stations showed some interesting trends from 1988 to 2013. Walleye fishing, at its peak, had once been 70 percent of angler efforts.
Walleye remain a popular target with excellent year classes of hatching survival in 2003 and 2010. The 2013 survey had 46 percent of anglers fishing for ’eyes; 21 percent went out for perch and 20 percent sought smallmouth bass last year.
“Bass numbers continue up, mainly in the spring when most fishing trips are catch-and-release outings,” Einhouse said.
Perch catch rates and angler efforts have been improving since 2000. Previously, the 1988 peak in perch populations declined through the 1990s such that few anglers targeted yellow perch until after 2000. Catch numbers recorded for 2012 approximate the 1988 count, but year classes anglers might see in 2014 will include smaller fish from recent hatching-year successes.
“It might be a good idea to keep perch large enough to fillet,” Einhouse said of so many fish caught and brought up from deeper waters.
He also made reference to this past winter, noting that walleye, perch and whitefish hatching successes tend to be best during harsh winters and poor when winters are mild. This past severe winter could see a decline in alewife and gizzard shad populations.
In general, with good results shown from recent Lake Erie Unit studies in 2010 and 2012, fish species should be abundant and healthy. Einhouse expects anglers to have a good fishing season in 2014.
Dimitry Gorsky reported on the increasing numbers of lake sturgeon that his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys reveal each year.
“A sturgeon can live up to 150 years, does not begin reproducing until at and after age 13 and averages a 6-foot length and about 100 pounds,” Gorsky said of Lake Erie sturgeon studied.
The lake sturgeon is a protected fish species in Lake Erie. Anglers can be cited with a violation for targeting them while fishing. But Gorsky said that the USF&WS would like anglers to report sightings of sturgeon anywhere in area waters.
Sherri Mason at Fredonia State College has conducted extensive studies on microplastics found in Lake Erie waters. Long before the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, the public had been warned about discarding petrochemical refuse, especially plastic sheets and bottles into waterways.
Mason’s “Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Survey” studies key on all the plastics found in waters, and 80 percent consist not of plastic sheeting or bottles but of small fibers, particles and pellets that enter waterways from washing synthetic clothing, a problem experts need to address.
Helen Domske with New York Sea Grant described the burgeoning problem of a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. “It’s been mainly a problem in Ohio waters in the Western Basin, but it has now been seen as close as Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania,” Domske said.
She added that not all algae growth is toxic, but swimmers are cautioned to avoid waters in which these growths are seen. Excess presence of algae can be harmful even after death, decreasing oxygen levels for fish and other aquatic life.
Aquatic biologist Jim Markham did a presentation on the Lake Erie cold-water fishery. Look for details of Markham’s talk in the Wednesday Fishing Line column.