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2014 banner year for Lake Champlain salmon restoration

Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative Press Release
January 21, 2015

Officials from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation today announced that 2014 assessment results show continued gains in the Lake Champlain landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery restoration program.

"It's extremely encouraging to see the collaborative efforts of New York, Vermont and federal agency staff fostering the long-term sustainability of the Lake Champlain fishery," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens. "Our staffs have made great strides in controlling sea lamprey, benefiting anglers and surrounding communities. However, we must remain vigilant in combatting the invasive sea lamprey so the fishery can continue to rebound and flourish."

The three groups, which work collaboratively on restoration efforts and make up the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, reported a number of highlights from recent evaluation activities that indicate further improvement to the lake's salmon population.

"We've seen several indicators from our 2014 assessments that make it very clear that sea lamprey control and our other salmon restoration initiatives, are continuing to be effective in strengthening the salmon population in Lake Champlain," said Brian Chipman, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "This is a great sign for the salmon, for the health of Lake Champlain's fisheries and for anglers."

One primary indicator is the strength of annual spawning runs - which produced several record or near-record numbers in 2014. Some of the key data points include:

  • 158 salmon lifted at the Winooski River Fish Lift at the Winooski One Hydroelectric Facility in Winooski, VT - the second highest number in the 22-year history of the fish lift operation. A majority of these fish were trucked upstream and released above the Essex, VT dam for access to suitable spawning habitat.

  • Salmon spawning activity was observed for the first time at several locations in the release section of the Winooski River, and its tributary, the Huntington River.

  • Salmon lifted at the Winooski facility were in excellent health with a range of sizes - including a state record-class male salmon measuring 32 inches and weighing 14 pounds, the largest salmon ever observed from Lake Champlain in the history of the restoration program.

  • A record 724 salmon collected in Hatchery Brook at the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station in Grand Isle, VT. Many of the salmon collected were used to provide eggs for hatchery production.

  • 139 salmon were collected in the Lamoille River below Peterson Dam - the most collected in a season since 1993.

  • 43 salmon were captured and passed upstream at the Boquet River fishway in Willsboro, NY - the most passed at this site since 2011.

  • Two other Lake Champlain tributaries not know for significant salmon runs yielded record numbers of salmon in 2014 surveys: 30 salmon in Otter Creek in Vergennes, VT, and 19 salmon in the Missisquoi River in Swanton, VT.

Additionally, data from 2014 assessments also show the lowest sea lamprey wounding rates since the long term sea lamprey control program began in 2002.

Lamprey wounds on salmon declined from 19 wounds per 100 fish in 2013 to 15 wounds per 100 fish in 2014, meeting the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative's target wounding level for salmon. Lamprey wounds on lake trout also declined to 30 wounds per 100 fish in 2014, from 54 in 2013.

In stark contrast to the 2014 results, sea lamprey abundance was near its peak in 2003, as indicated by a rate of 93 wounds per 100 salmon. That year, salmon returns were very low, with only 84 collected from Hatchery Brook, 21 from the Lamoille River, and 14 from the Winooski River.

"The reduction in lamprey wounding rates indicate an overall decrease in sea lamprey abundance in Lake Champlain, and highlights the continued success and improvements in the sea lamprey control program," said Bradley Young, sea lamprey control program supervisor with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "Through technological advances in survey and treatment methods and the inclusion of newly identified lamprey population infestations, the control program has gained more ground and become more comprehensive in its approach."

As a result, lamprey are having less of an impact in Lake Champlain which is beneficial to a range of fish species including northern pike, walleye and lake sturgeon, in addition to trout and salmon. Ultimately, these forward steps are expected to translate into better fishing on Lake Champlain in the coming years.

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