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Lake Ontario Fisheries Unit Activities and Assessment Programs

Preyfish Assessment

In two of our surveys we cooperate with the USGS-BRD at Oswego to sample preyfish populations. In late April and early May we sample alewives. The R/V Seth Green (NYDEC) and the R/V KAHO (USGS) fish 12 transects spaced about 25 km apart along the US shoreline (see transect map). Bottom trawls are towed along bottom contours generally covering depths of 8 to 150 m depending on fish distributions. Over 80 tows are made during a typical survey. When brought onboard, the fish are sorted, counted, and measured for length and weight. A subsample is taken for aging. Our smelt survey in June is accomplished in a similar fashion except that 11 transects are sampled.

We also cooperate with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to do our whole lake preyfish assessments. In July/August and September/October, we use hydroacoustics (SONAR) to count offshore, open water preyfish. We use the Seth Green to run a series of seven north - south transects across the lake (see transect map). Transect locations are spaced approximately equidistance apart to allow us to get a lakewide assessment. During these surveys we also tow midwater trawls to identify the fish we see on the hydroacoustics. All fish brought onboard are counted and subsamples are measured for length. In conjunction with collection of data on fish we will stop periodically along the transects and collect water temperature, and water and plankton samples to examine lakewide productivity.

Lake Trout Restoration

Rehabilitation of a naturally reproducing population of lake trout is the focus of a major international effort in Lake Ontario. Coordinated through the Lake Ontario Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, representatives from the cooperating agencies, including NYDEC, developed the Joint Plan for Rehabilitation of Lake Trout in Lake Ontario. Surveys conducted during the year assess the progress of rehabilitation efforts.

During mid-July the NYDEC and USGS sample age-0 to age-2 lake trout by fishing bottom trawls along 13 transects, one in Canadian water and the other 12 along the US shore. We begin towing trawling at the point the thermocline intersects with the bottom near shore. Trawls are towed along the depth contours at 5 m intervals out to depths where no more lake trout are caught.

In mid-September we sample the adult lake trout population using gillnets fished at 14 locations along the US shoreline. Four nets are fished along bottom contours. The first net is set at the depth where the 10deg.C isotherm intersects shore, and each successive net is set 10m deeper. All fish captured in both lake trout surveys are measured for length and weight, examined for sex, maturity, stomach contents, lamprey wounds, and checked for marks (tags or fin clips).

Eastern Basin Warm Water Fish Community Assessment

Warm water assessment is a long-term trend-through-time sampling program designed to provide an annual overview of fish which typically reside in the warmer and shallower portions of New York waters of Lake Ontario's eastern basin. This includes a wide variety of species but is targeted at smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch and white perch. The sampling has been conducted each year since 1976 during the month of August, and utilizes gill nets of varying mesh size. Captured fish are counted to provide and annual measure or index of relative abundance, and then processed for information such as length, weight, sex, and stage of maturity. Scale samples or various spines are removed for later age determinations, stomach contents are sometimes examined, and some fish are saved for analysis of contaminants such as pesticides or PCBs.

Bio-Monitoring Program

The BioMonitoring program is designed to provide trend-through-time data for nutrient and primary production dynamics in the nearshore and offshore waters of Lake Ontario. Nearshore water and zooplankton samples are taken biweekly from May through October by NYDEC Region 6, 7 and 8 fisheries units and USFWS's Fisheries Assistance Office in Amherst, NY. Similar collections are made offshore at approximately 35 sites during August and October by staff from the Cape Vincent Fisheries Station aboard the R/V Seth Green. Sample efforts include secchi disk transparency, total phosphorus, nitrate-nitrogen, chlorophyll a, and replicate zooplankton tows. Samples are processed and data summarized by Cornell University staff at Shackelton Point.

Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Census

The DEC Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Census is designed to measure and characterize the open lake sport fishery in New York waters of Lake Ontario's western and central basins. These efforts are targeted at providing information to assist in management of the lake's trout and salmon fishery, although valuable information on other species is also collected. The census has been conducted each year since 1985, and covers a 6-month period from April 1 through September 30. Two crews of two agents each survey selected locations and time periods according to a predetermined stratified sample design. The census agents position themselves near the mouths of the channels that boaters use for access to and from Lake Ontario. All returning boats are counted, and a random sample are interviewed. Whenever possible, fish harvested are examined and processed for additional biological data.

Sportfishing Restoration for the Lake Ontario System

In June 2006, New York State announced that the Department and the Office of the Attorney General had reached a settlement of the State's Natural Resource Damage claim for the Lake Ontario system. Defendant Occidental Chemical Corporation (OCC) agreed to pay the State $12 million in five equal payments of $2.4 million over four years. The claim arose under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or federal Superfund) and New York State common law, and compensates the people of the State for injuries to natural resources caused by the release of harmful chemicals to the environment. The settlement was based on an assessment of the damages to the State's natural resources, in particular a loss of recreational fishing benefits resulting from the imposition of fish consumption advisories because of the presence of contaminants in the fish. The proceeds of this settlement will be used to restore and enhance sportfishing and other injured natural resources in the Lake Ontario system defined as: the New York waters of the lower Niagara River, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River to the Robert Moses Power Dam, and their tributaries upstream to the first barrier impassable to fish. In this case, because recreational fishing was injured, the recovered damages will be used to restore/enhance the recreational use of the fish and to restore/enhance the fishery itself.

The Department will maintain a record of all written comments received during the formal notice period, which may be delivered electronically [e-mail; or fax (315)654-4118], in person, or via conventional mail.

Mr. Christopher J. Balk
Lake Ontario OCC NRD Coordinator
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
P.O. Box 292
Cape Vincent, New York 13618

All comments must be received by March 20, 2007.

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    Lake Ontario Fisheries Research Unit
    Cape Vincent Fisheries Research Station
    541 East Broadway
    P.O. Box 292
    Cape Vincent, NY 13618
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