Oneida Lake Fisheries Report
The Fishery and Limnology of Oneida Lake 2014
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 2014 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 2014 (PDF) (993 kB).
Long term fish community changes in Oneida Lake are measured by assessing standard gill net catches. There were 1,293 fish caught in the standard gill nets in 2014, the lowest observed since 2003. Walleye represented 32% of the catch, exceeding both yellow perch (26% of the catch) and white perch (25%) for the first time in the entire data series. These three species represent over 80% of the catch in most years.
The estimated adult (age 4 and older) walleye population abundance was 442,000 in 2014, which was an increase from the 2013 estimate of 360,000. The increase in the adult population is the result of a relatively large 2010 year class recruiting into the fishery. The 2010 year class is the largest year class at age 4 since 1987, and constitutes 36% of the entire adult population. Over the full course of the 57 year data series, the adult walleye population has experienced a significant decrease, but has shown a significant increase since 2000.
The adult (age 3 and older) yellow perch population was estimated to be 596,000 fish, a 64% reduction from 2013. This decline may be in part due to the inherent variability of gill net catches, but relatively small year classes from 2009-2011 and perhaps a higher than normal level of harvest due to an extended ice fishing season in 2013-14 may also account for it. Additional years of sampling and an expansion of sampling locations in nearshore areas of the lake will be required to assess the true magnitude of the decline and the overall status of the population. Long term trends show a significant population decline, but no trend is detectable over the last decade, suggesting a more or less stable, but much smaller population than was present in the lake in the 1960s - 1980s.
Increased water clarity due to filter feeding by zebra and quagga mussels has caused an expansion in the shoreline littoral habitat that favors species such as black bass, sunfish, and pickerel. 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. In 2014, thirty species were caught in the fyke nets, many of which were littoral species that are not typically caught with the traditional gears used in the long term studies. 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, which were first confirmed in the lake in 2013 and distributed throughout the lake in 2014.
Spring boat electrofishing survey sportfish catches were dominated by largemouth bass (12/hour), chain pickerel (7/hour), walleye (5/hour), and smallmouth bass (4/hour). Yellow perch, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed and rockbass made up the majority of the panfish and non-sportfish catch. 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. Timing of the initiation of electrofishing surveys was fortuitous, as there are now three years of surveys in advance of establishment of round goby to facilitate assessment of any community responses to this new invader.
In 2014, an access site creel survey was conducted during June and July, which provides an accurate estimate of complete open water season walleye catch and harvest rates. Estimated effort was 217,548 boat hours, which continued a trend of increasing effort since 2002. About 50% of anglers sought walleye specifically, while 35% sought only bass. The estimated walleye catch rates for June and July were 0.16/hour and 0.33/hour, respectively (a catch rate exceeding 0.25/hour is characteristic of an excellent fishery). The overall harvest rate was 0.22/hour. The estimated total harvest was 60,192 walleye, which was slightly more than the estimated total harvest of 58,947 in 2013 and 59,500 in 2012. Smallmouth bass catch rates in June and July were 0.49/hour and 0.25/hour, respectively. There were very few smallmouth bass harvested (0.01/hour).