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Ongoing project: Long-term studies of Oneida Lake

Randy Jackson, Tom Brooking, Tony VanDeValk, Lars Rudstam, Kristen Holeck, Christopher Hotaling, John Forney (Funded by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) 

Our studies of the fisheries and limnology of Oneida Lake were initiated in the mid-1950s as an assessment of the status of the lake’s important walleye and yellow perch fisheries. The program has enjoyed continuous funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and for almost 40 years has included annual monitoring of multiple trophic levels and physical conditions, representing a true ecosystem approach to understanding the dynamics of the lake’s fish community and fisheries. Ongoing studies on Oneida Lake include detailed studies of walleye and yellow perch from larval to adult life stages, assessment of offshore and inshore fish community composition and monitoring of nutrients, primary and secondary production, as well as annual creel surveys. While maintaining the continuous data set started by John Forney, we have increased the scope of our studies, which now include intensive sampling of the lake’s nearshore fish community. Oneida Lake is the State’s second most heavily fished lake, and data collected by Field Station staff provide timely information to DEC managers to ensure sustainable fishing opportunities, particularly for walleye, yellow perch and smallmouth bass. The data series has also allowed important insights into the response of lake ecosystems to perturbations such as exotic species and climate change. We have already documented fundamental shifts in fish community composition resulting from increases in water clarity associated with zebra mussels, and are currently assessing the impacts of displacement of zebra mussels by quagga mussels. The double-crested cormorant had profound impacts on walleye and yellow perch, and our studies of these impacts have informed cormorant management throughout their range. Analyses of the response of walleye and yellow perch to cormorant management are shedding light on the relative importance of that management and concurrent restrictions of walleye harvest. Warming water temperatures may be contributing to increased production of largemouth and smallmouth bass, gizzard shad and other species near the northern extent of their range, while burbot, at the southern edge of their range, may be in decline. Sampling in 2014 revealed that the round goby has finally become established in the lake, although densities were low. By late summer of 2015, gobies were the most abundant species in our trawl samples. Gobies appeared in the diets of most of our more common fish species and were also foraged upon by cormorants. We will have an excellent opportunity to assess the impacts of this new invasive on the lake’s fish and fisheries in the upcoming years. Walleye anglers enjoyed another excellent season in 2015, and harvested nearly 60,000 walleye. Bass continue to be a popular fishery, and almost 30% of the anglers interviewed during our June/July creel survey were targeting bass, another sign of change from the days when walleye anglers comprised most of the lake users. As Oneida Lake has changed, so too has the fish community and the fishery, and our studies continue to expand in our efforts to understand the dynamics of this economically important resource.