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Oneida Lake Fisheries Report

2018 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 2018 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 2018 (PDF).

Fish Community

Long term fish community changes in Oneida Lake are measured by assessing standard gill net catches. There were 1,690 fish caught in the standard gill nets in 2018, below the long-term average of 1,938, but higher than all but one of the last 15 years. Yellow perch represented 52% of the catch, followed by walleye (24%) and white perch (18%). These three species represent over 80% of the catch in most years.


The estimated adult (age 4 and older) walleye population abundance was between 497,200 and 629,200, which is the highest it's been since 1992. What so far appears to be a very strong 2016 year-class recruiting into the fishery in 2020 should help maintain the population at this level or higher. A mark-recapture study is being conducted in 2019 to determine a more precise estimate of the adult population.

Yellow Perch

The adult (age 3 and older) yellow perch population was estimated to be 1,827,800, more than 25% higher than the average population sizes estimated since 2000. Catches over the last four 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. Catches were consistently low in 2018, suggesting another winter die-off. In 2018, round goby occurred in 8% of white perch diets, 10% of yellow perch, 2% of walleye, and 11% of smallmouth bass. These numbers reflect the lowest use of round goby by walleye since their arrival in the lake, but the highest by 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. Thirty species were caught in fykes nets in 2018, which was similar to past years. Young-of-year largemouth bass in 2017 produced near-zero catches but increased to 2/net-night in 2018, on the low side of the typical range. Young-of-year smallmouth bass catches were the second lowest observed at 2.9/net-night.

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 2018 largemouth bass catch rate of 17.0/hr was the second highest observed since the survey was initiated. Walleye were captured at the second highest rate among predators (13.0/hr, the highest observed catch observed from this survey), followed by chain pickerel (4.8/hr), freshwater drum (3.8/hr), longnose gar (3.8/hr), and bowfin (3.1/hr). Catches of longnose gar and bowfin were the highest yet observed for this survey, while catches of smallmouth bass (1.6/hr) were the lowest.

Creel Surveys

A summer (June and July) access site creel survey and a full season creel survey were conducted in 2018. Effort during the open water season was estimated at 168,556 boat hours, nearly a 9% drop from 2017. Targeted effort, catch and harvest rates for walleye and black bass were similar between surveys. About 60% of anglers sought walleye specifically, while about 20% sought only bass. The estimated open water walleye catch rate was 0.23/hr (a catch rate exceeding 0.25/hour is characteristic of an excellent fishery), an increase of 65% from the rate observed in 2017. The overall harvest rate was 0.15/hour. The estimated total harvest was just under 50,000 walleye. The open water black bass catch rate was 0.16/hr, and the targeted catch rate was 0.54/hr. There were very few black bass harvested (0.01/hour).