Sauger Conservation Management Plan
Sauger caught in Lake Champlain during a fishery survey
The Sauger Conservation Management Plan (550 KB PDF) has been completed. The goal of the plan is to establish and maintain sauger populations in all suitable waters of native New York watersheds by 2030. The objectives of the plan are:
Establish a self-sustaining sauger population in the upper Allegheny River watershed.
Determine the sauger population status and document and improve habitat suitability in Lake Champlain.
Determine the suitability of Lake Erie's eastern basin watershed for sauger restoration.
These objectives are designed to be implemented through 2020. Progress made towards meeting these objectives will serve as guidance in the development of new objectives and management recommendations for the period 2021 - 2030. Additional waters will be considered for sauger population establishment during this time.
Executive Summary of the Sauger Conservation Management Plan
Sauger are North American members of the true perch family, Percidae, and closely resemble walleye in both appearance and function. They are highly migratory and typically inhabit large, turbid rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. They were once prominent members of the fish assemblages of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain watersheds of New York, but these populations have declined to the point that perhaps only a small remnant population in Lake Champlain still exists. Sauger are now considered critically imperiled in New York State and, therefore, conservation and restoration actions are warranted.
The goal of this plan is to establish and maintain self-sustaining sauger populations in all suitable waters of native watersheds. The number of suitable waters still needs to be determined as some waters where sauger once occurred in New York, such as the upper St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, may no longer be able to support sauger populations. Increased water clarity, because of reductions in nutrient loading and the invasion of zebra mussels, and restricted access to potentially important habitats due to dam construction are key factors in the degradation of sauger habitat quality in these areas. Therefore, management efforts will initially focus on the Allegheny River, Lake
Champlain, and Lake Erie watersheds. Suitable habitat likely exists in these waters and adjacent viable populations or recovery efforts suggest establishment of populations is achievable.
A sauger population and popular fishery currently exists in the Allegheny River below the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania. Conewango Creek, a tributary that enters the Allegheny River below the dam, was recently made accessible to sauger with the removal of a lowhead dam at the mouth. Sauger can now move unobstructed into this portion of the Allegheny watershed in New York. The fish community of Conewango Creek will be monitored to determine if sauger are entering and inhabiting the system. The Allegheny River population is, however, blocked from entering the New York portion of the river due to the Kinzua Dam. The development and implementation of a stocking program is required to establish a population in the reservoir and river section above the dam.
Sauger still presumably occur in Lake Champlain, but because only one fish has been collected during surveys over the last 15 years, this population appears to be at risk of extirpation. However, small numbers of sauger are regularly documented in the lake's outlet, the Richelieu River, and further downstream in the St. Lawrence River, both in Quebec, Canada. Also, there is evidence that sauger are utilizing the recently constructed Vianney-Legendre fishway at the St. Ours Dam on the Richelieu River and moving towards northern Lake Champlain. Management actions will include fish community surveys of northern and southern Lake Champlain, habitat suitability assessments, habitat construction and restoration, and determination of the need and feasibility of a stocking program.
In Lake Erie, sauger were historically most abundant in the western basin, but were numerous enough in the eastern basin to support a commercial fishery in the early 20th century. The lakewide population crashed in the 1950's and is now extirpated. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is currently developing a restoration program for sauger in western Lake Erie and this could have implications for the eastern basin if sauger become established and migrate east. The suitability of New York's Lake Erie tributaries will be assessed for potential sauger restoration.
The goal of this plan is to be achieved by 2030. Actions in this plan will be implemented through 2020. Progress made towards completing these actions and meeting objectives will serve as guidance in the development of new objectives and management recommendations for the period 2021 - 2030.
Top left: Sauger fry at the time of stocking
Top right: Young-of-year sauger captured in September
Bottom: Age-1 sauger captured in September
Sauger population recovery efforts in the Allegheny River watershed continued with the stocking of 5,810 fingerlings in the Allegheny Reservoir on June 4, 2015. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources supplied the sauger fry, which were produced from wild brood stock caught from the Ohio River. The sauger were raised in ponds at the Chautauqua Fish Hatchery for 45 days and averaged 1.6 inches long when they were boat stocked in the reservoir. This was the second year of a 5-year stocking policy to restore the Allegheny River watershed sauger population. Last year 5,700 1.8 inch fingerlings were stocked in the same location.
In September 2015, the DEC Region 9 Fisheries Unit surveyed the Allegheny Reservoir near the stocking location using a combination of boat electrofishing and trawling to determine survival and growth of the stocked sauger. Forty-two sauger were captured (1 from trawling, 41 from boat electrofishing). Twenty-five of these were young-of-year and 17 were age-1. The average length of the young-of-year sauger was 6.8 inches and the boat electrofishing catch rate was 5/hour. The average length of the age-1 fish was 12.7 inches and the catch rate was 3.5/hour. Last year, 48 young-of year sauger were collected via trawling and electrofishing. The boat electrofishing catch rate was 17.2/hour and the average length was 6.4 inches. The young-of-year catch rates declined from 2014 to 2015, but this may have been influenced by much lower water levels in the reservoir in 2015. Regardless, the presence of both age classes, and the exceptional growth, of these fish are very encouraging signs for this program.
Read the full Status Report on the Allegheny River Watershed Sauger Management Program report (1.4 MB PDF).