Taking stock in the future of lake trout
Today we hear from Larry Miller, hatchery manager at Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren, PA. Larry grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in Dunkirk, New York. Originally attending college for nursing, Larry was hired for a summer internship helping graduate students with fish behavior studies on Lake Erie because he knew a lot about the lake. He got hooked on fish and concentrated his studies on ecology, limnology and fisheries. Now Larry has come full circle; Dunkirk is one of the sites where lake trout produced at his hatchery will be released this spring.
Growing up, Lake Erie was literally at the end of my street. My friends and I would walk down to the end of the road with fishing pole in hand and catch as many sheephead (freshwater drum) as we could reel in before our arms fell off. The one who caught the most was the winner (30+). I remember stories of the giant lake trout that once inhabited Lake Erie and I always wanted to catch a record class one someday.
The lake trout was one of the most important native fish species in Lakes Ontario and Erie before European colonization. Uncontrolled commercial fishing and overharvesting decimated lake trout populations so that by the 1950s the last native lake trout was netted by commercial fishermen in Lake Ontario and by the mid 1960s, lake trout had disappeared from Lake Erie, too.
|Click here to see a video of Lake Erie stocking at North East Pennsylvania.|
Although commercial fishing was no longer a factor, bringing back lake trout to the lower Great Lakes faced other challenges, such as pollution.
Wright Park Beach was about a 10 minute walk from my house, but when I was young we rarely went swimming there because it was covered with dead stinky brownish rotting algae and fish. Ironically the city actually built a pool right next to the lake so kids would have a place to swim! With the banning of phosphates in detergents and better sewage treatment the lake water quality improved. We started swimming at the beach, I became a life guard, yellow perch and walleye fishing got better and the fisheries agencies started talking about restoring other native species like lake trout.
The multi-agency, international Great Lakes Fishery Commission was formed to maintain sustainable fisheries in the Great Lakes. Today the commission has action plans in place to address sea lamprey predation, habitat limitations, insufficient adult spawner numbers and limited hatchery stocking. These include an enhanced hatchery and stocking program for lake trout.
Allegheny National Fish Hatchery has the lead for lake trout hatchery and stocking in Lakes Ontario and Erie. In 2005 the hatchery was shut down due to a fish disease. When the hatchery was about to reopen in 2011, I was asked if I’d be interested in being the manager.
At the time I was the Susquehanna River Coordinator down in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and was looking for a change from the one-person office environment working mainly with people from other agencies. My wife, son, dog and I visited the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery/Warren area on a camping trip and went up to Lake Erie. After a flood of memories and finding we liked the area we decided to make the move. I was happy when the hatchery reopened and I became the manager.
In 2011 we resumed lake trout production with more than a million fertilized eggs received from other state and federal partner hatcheries. From those eggs we produced 900,000 fall fingerling fish by October 2012 and stocked 120,000 in each lake. We held the remaining 660,000 at the hatchery to raise them to the spring yearling size that we are currently stocking.
We began stocking yearlings this year on April 8 in Lake Erie at Sandusky, Ohio and will continue through the end of May with final stocking in Lake Ontario at Olcott, NY. Our program receives substantial support from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
In the future I hope Lake Erie will return to the glory days when it is not only a workhorse for industry and commerce, but a great place to grow up, can also support a viable, self-sustaining fishery for recreational anglers and a well-managed, productive commercial fishery. I would like Lake Erie to be a good experience to be shared with locals and visitors, and serve as a model for recovery of a lost aquatic resource. And I’m still hoping to catch that record class lake trout someday.
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