DEC confirms Round Gobies in Seneca Lake


We all knew that they were coming.  It was just a matter of when. I received confirmation from Region 8 DEC that gobies were confirmed in Seneca Lake.  A well-respected angler sent DEC some photos of gobies.  He had caught a perch and it spit two of them up – one which was still alive.  There were rumors of gobies being in Seneca Lake before – during the Memorial Weekend Derby 3 or 4 years ago (or perhaps longer – I don’t remember), a landlocked salmon was brought in that had a goby or two in its stomach, but I hadn’t heard anything since then.  I’ve cleaned some salmon, pike, browns and lakers over the past few years over there and didn’t encounter any.

For readers of this website that may not know, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are part of New York State’s canal system, so they are navigable all the way out to Lake Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean – both via the Great Lakes and the Hudson River.  That is why fishing guides on Seneca and Cayuga Lake (along with Oneida, the Barge Canal, Onondaga Lake and other attached (i.e., NAVIGABLE) waterways need to have a U.S. Coast Guard license to guide them.  That is also why Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have lampreys, whereas the other Finger Lakes don’t.  It’s also why these two Finger Lakes have more species diversity than the others – fish like sturgeon, drum, channel catfish, gar, bowfin, white perch and so on can swim into these lakes via the canal system.  The Seneca River is the outlet of Seneca Lake and there are some locks and little waterfalls (and Van Cleef Lake) in between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, so there were some obstacles – they couldn’t just swim over.  It took time for them to negotiate these obstacles and build up enough of a population to where they were detectable.

Given the goby invasion (or “infestation”) of Cayuga Lake and Oneida Lakes, what can we ascertain or predict will happen over on Seneca Lake?

Below are my thoughts – positive and negative.

First the Negative:

1.)  Some native species like sculpin will be outcompeted by gobies.  We may see the same with bass fry and other gamefish fry.

2.)  Gobies are voracious attackers of fish eggs and larvae/fry.  Expect smallmouth bass and lake trout to potentially take a big hit here.  Wild lake trout now constitute around 33% of Seneca’s laker population. These numbers may diminish.  Stocking increases can offset any hits to the wild lake trout population, however bass are not raised or stocked in NY Waterways, other than for starting up farm ponds.  Smallmouths will take a hit here, just like they have on Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake and Cayuga Lake.

3.)  Fish like landlocked salmon are great fun to catch up near the surface of the lakes.  It makes them fun to fly-fish. With thousands of gobies on the bottom, these fish will not be looking up until the waters warm and alewives (which they seem to prefer over gobies,) move in.  That’s my #1 personal bummer here!  I LOVE fly-fishing for salmon and this will likely ruin the late-fall/winter bite.  At least I can fly-fish lakers on Keuka now.

4.)  Gobies are a relatively new invader to the United States.  We may not know the consequences of their presence for decades.  It took researchers literally 100 years before they realized what alewives did to fish populations – between thiamine deficiencies and predation.  Smelt also negatively impacted a lot of native species.  We likely won’t REALLY know the full impact of the gobies for years.  Scientists think they can be a vector for contaminants, but I don’t think that has materialized yet, apart from the botulism issues on Lake Erie.  As far as I know, we haven’t seen contaminant numbers go up in fish yet.

5.)  Gobies are big bait stealers.  They will clean the bait off of your rigs intended for bass, bullheads and panfish.

The positive:

1.)  Growth rates and condition of fish that prey on gobies will go up.  We likely would never have seen the NY State record smallmouth bass come out of Cayuga Lake if not for gobies.  Yellow perch, trout, salmon, pickerel, pike, drum, sturgeon and other species gobble up gobies.

2.)  A diet of gobies might help the thiamine levels of salmonids that feed on them.  Of course, any gains may wind up being offset by predation on the eggs/fry by the gobies.

3.)  I’ve never eaten a goby, but people from the Eastern Hemisphere have told me that they are very tasty.  Once gobies got into Cayuga Lake, the color of the meat on lake trout became more orange/red.  I’m not sure if the flavor changed much, but the appearance sure did.

4.)  Gobies may buffer the effects of cormorant colonies.  Cormorants eat a ton of sport fish.  They just love eating fish – I’d rather them eat alewives and gobies.  This may help save some trout, bass and panfish in the long run.

5.)  Gobies will take the zebra/quagga mussel population way down.  No more cutting your feet on mussel encrusted rocks.  Gobies will devour those mussels quickly.

6.)  We may see some fun shallow winter-time lake trout fishing on Seneca Lake.  On Cayuga it really only peaked for a few years, but ever since then, more lake trout now roam shallow than did pre-goby.

My list may make it look like gobies are a net positive.  I do not know.  I wish we didn’t have them.

Here are some differences between Seneca Lake’s fishery and Cayuga’s.  Cayuga Lake has a much larger (aka “denser”) lake trout population than Seneca.  I really don’t expect the epic nearshore bite here anytime soon.  Of course that “bite” on Cayuga Lake happened maybe three or four years after the goby influx.  With Seneca Lake’s lake trout stocking numbers going up, we may see that crazy fishing in a few years.

There are a lot fewer anglers targeting bass on Seneca Lake than there are on Cayuga.  Don’t be surprised if somebody really “shakes things up” with a catch of some massive smallmouths and/or largemouths over the next few years on Seneca Lake!   It could happen.

Perch numbers have been down for a few years on Seneca Lake.  I attribute that to the massive alewive population.  Once the alewives get knocked back (by lake trout) and the perch population comes back, we may see Seneca Lake’s perch fishing revert back to some of its former glory.  The gobies seem to have helped Cayuga Lake’s perch fishing.  Perhaps the same is true for Oneida Lake.

Brown trout love eating gobies too.  Maybe we’ll see Seneca Lake’s brown trout bounce back a bit.  If DEC can keep the lampreys down, this could happen.

Whether the gobies are a net negative or positive is a moot point now.  They’re here – whether we like them or not.  We just have to hope for the best.  DEC is doing a lot of research on Seneca Lake this year (sheer coincidence with the goby confirmation) and we’ll likely learn a lot by the end of the year.  Make sure you sign up to keep a diary over there with DEC, if you plan on fishing there!