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Oneida Lake Fisheries Report

2017 Oneida Lake Fisheries Report

Researchers at the Cornell Biological Field Station at Oneida Lake conduct an annual assessment of the fish community and fishery in Oneida Lake. Funded by a Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration grant, this monitoring project is the longest running warmwater fishery assessment in New York State. This information is used by NYSDEC to aid in making management decisions to protect and enhance the Oneida Lake fishery. The following is a brief summary of findings of the 2017 sampling efforts. The full Cornell report, which provides a detailed analysis of the data and anticipated changes in Oneida Lake fish community, is available as a PDF titled The Fishery and Limnology of Oneida Lake 2017 (PDF).

Fish Community Changes

Long term fish community changes in Oneida Lake are measured by assessing standard gill net catches. There were 1,281 fish caught in the standard gill nets in 2017, well below the long-term average of 1,940. Walleye represented 37.2% of the catch, followed by yellow perch (36%) and white perch (20%). These three species represent over 80% of the catch in most years.

Walleye

The estimated adult (age 4 and older) walleye population abundance was between 451,300 and 508,600. The recruitment of the relatively large 2010 year-class into the fishery resulted in an increase in the adult walleye population starting in 2014. A similarly large 2014 year-class is projected to add 171,000 fish to the fishery in 2018. Over the full course of the 58 year data series, the adult walleye population has experienced a significant decrease, but has shown no significant trend since 2007.

Yellow Perch

The adult (age 3 and older) yellow perch population was estimated to be 1,146,800 fish, about average for population sizes estimated since 2000. Catches over the last three summers reflect recovery from a population low observed in 2014. Long-term trends show a significant decline in adult yellow perch population size, but no trend is detectable since 2007, suggesting a more or less stable, but smaller population than was present in the lake in the1960s-1980s.

Round Goby

The first confirmed reports of round goby in Oneida Lake were in 2013 and they are now well-established throughout the lake. There appeared to be a large die-off during the winter of 2016-17, but surviving round goby were able to reproduce successfully in the summer of 2017 and produced fall young of year catches that matched or exceeded those from 2016. Round goby occurred in the diets of 33% of lake sturgeon examined, 12% of white perch, 29% of freshwater drum, 4% of yellow perch, 3% of walleye, and 8% of smallmouth bass. We expect to see an expanding population over the next few years and continued sampling should allow us to detect impacts to the fish community, ecology of the lake, and angler catch rates of sportfish.

Nearshore Sampling

Nearshore fyke net and boat electrofishing surveys were recently added to the monitoring program to account for the anticipated changes in the littoral fish community due to increased water clarity. The fyke net survey has provided an index of young-of-year black bass production and also shows potential as an index for sunfish and chain pickerel. It also will provide valuable data on production of nesting bass and sunfish to assess potential impacts of round gobies. Twenty-seven species were caught in fykes nets in 2017, which was similar to past years. Catches of young-of-year largemouth bass in 2016 indicated the second largest year class we've seen based on this gear, but the 2017 year class produced near-zero catches. Young-of-year smallmouth bass catches were within the historic range.

Spring electrofishing provides a good compliment to fyke nets for assessing the nearshore fish community and provides the only index for adult largemouth bass and best index for chain pickerel. The 2017 largemouth bass catch rate of 18.9/hr was the highest observed since the survey was initiated in 2011. Walleye were captured at the second highest rate among predators (9.2/hr), followed by chain pickerel (3.7/hr), smallmouth bass (3.8/hr), and longnose gar (3.4/hr).

Creel Surveys

A summer (June and July) access site creel survey was conducted in 2017. Effort during the open water season was estimated at 184,731 boat hours. This was nearly a 5% drop from 2016 and was largely attributed to poor weather conditions in May. About 52% of anglers sought walleye specifically, while 33% sought only bass. The estimated walleye catch rates for June and July were 0.11/hour and 0.23/hour, respectively (a catch rate exceeding 0.25/hour is characteristic of an excellent fishery). The overall harvest rate was 0.11/hour. The estimated total harvest was 34,388 walleye, more than twice that observed in 2016. Smallmouth bass catch rates in June and July were 0.37/hour and 0.20/hour, respectively. There were very few smallmouth bass harvested (0.01/hour).