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Muskellunge Management Objectives for the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers

History

The Susquehanna River in Broome and Tioga Counties, NY, was stocked with tiger muskellunge from the mid-1980's until 2005. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PAFBC) has stocked pure strain muskellunge in both the Great Bend section of the Susquehanna River upstream of Binghamton and downstream of Waverly since at least the 1980's. Angler reports of "tiger musky" in the Susquehanna River became more common after the late 1980's while word of angler caught musky from the Chenango River picked up in the late 1990's. Fishery surveys conducted by DEC staff initially reported all fish as tiger musky, but the meristic counts used for identification were either not done or revealed intermediate characteristics between muskellunge and tiger muskellunge. During the late-1990's staff gained access to photos of almost 100 angler caught "musky" from these rivers and ultimately came to believe that nearly all were pure strain. However, since photo verification cannot be considered positive, we felt the only sure way to verify a reproducing population in the rivers was to capture a young-of-year musky. Finally, in the summer of 2008 wild young-of-year muskellunge were captured in both rivers verifying that muskellunge were indeed naturally reproducing. It is believed that the PAFBC stockings are the basis for the wild population that has since developed in both the Susquehanna and lower Chenango Rivers

Management Objectives

Tiger muskellunge were stocked into the Susquehanna River to create an opportunity for anglers to catch a trophy fish. However, once we felt that muskellunge were actually supporting the vast majority of the fishery, tiger musky stocking was discontinued. Wild muskellunge are now managed with the same intent of sustaining a trophy fishery.

Regulations

The current regulation, which went into effect in October 1992, allows anglers to harvest one muskellunge or tiger muskellunge per day (combined) that is 30" or longer between the 1st Saturday in May and March 15. This special regulation for the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers was created to eliminate the need for anglers to differentiate between the two species since season dates for musky and tiger musky are different. The extended tiger musky season was selected over the shorter musky season because the muskellunge population was expanding despite being managed, in essence, under the more liberal tiger musky season (everyone assumed that all fish were tigers).

Future

DEC staff have put forth a proposal to increase the minimum length limit for muskellunge on these two waters to 36" beginning in October 2012. The growth rate of these fish is excellent and the proposed minimum length would delay potential harvest by a year. This regulation should allow more fish to reach a larger "trophy" size yet still not greatly reduce the ability of anglers to harvest a quality sized fish, if desired. Currently we do not believe that the fishery is over exploited, but as word gets out about the exceptional quality of the musky fishery in these two rivers, the chance for additional harvest will increase. Note that staff considered a proposal to raise the minimum length to 40", but they ultimately felt that there is a trade-off that goes along with the higher limit. Because the difficulty of handling muskies increases with size, staff was concerned that more undersized fish would likely die from injuries related to catch and release. Finally, there is no intention to change the "open season" back to the standard muskellunge timing given that the musky populations of these two rivers have flourished under the existing liberal season dates.


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