New Directions in Finger Lakes Management


Readers of DEC Press releases, local newspapers and outdoor publications may have noticed that New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has been embracing some new fishery management concepts.  Recently, DEC has been more proactive in their management of Lake Ontario salmonid fisheries.  They’ve always been somewhat proactive, for example, when they cut chinook salmon stocking numbers after Lake Michigan’s bout with BKD.  Stocking numbers of salmon and trout are now being adjusted based on weights of mature salmon and lake forage levels.  The lake basin has been divided into different “zones” with differing objectives/stocking strategies.

We’ve also seen statewide surveys and reclassification of inland trout waters.  We’ve seen trophy panfish waters designated in different regions.  The state’s brown trout strain has been changed in hopes of bringing some new genetics and hopefully more wild characteristics into the fish.

These changes are long overdue and I’ve heard we’ll also being seeing esocid (pike, pickerel, musky) regulations/management looked at in the future as well.  There have been advancements in fishing technology (live and surround sonar, ice-fishing mobility, GPS and so forth) which have made anglers more productive on the water.  With those advancements in harvest capabilities come the need for more stringent regulations – e.g., size and number limits.

In the Finger Lakes, we’re also seeing some new management strategies.  From the 1950s (and perhaps before that) leading into the 1990s, it was all about diversity.   The more variety, the better – so lakes like Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka were all stocked with lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and landlocked salmon (lake trout stocking was stopped around 1970 in Keuka Lake due to large amounts of wild production.)  Canadice and Hemlock Lake had rainbows, browns and lake trout.  Smelt were introduced into some of the Finger Lakes earlier in the 20th century.  Landlocked/Atlantic salmon stocking was tried in Owasco Lake, Canandaigua and Hemlock Lake.  Brown trout were stocked in Skaneateles Lake.  Rainbows even went into Conesus Lake in the 1960s.  If you go back even further, fish like lake whitefish were stocked throughout the Finger Lakes.  Even muskies were once stocked in Cayuga Lake!

Some of these efforts succeeded, some failed – but it was seen as a positive to get a bigger variety of species, a.k.a. angling opportunities in the lakes.  With invasive species becoming established in our waterways, as well as mostly successful pollution control efforts and plenty of hindsight, it’s become fairly obvious to anglers (I’d hope) and fisheries biologists, that each lake has characteristics that favor certain species over others.

New Finger Lakes Management plans are being drafted this year (they’ve been in the works for a couple of years now.)  We will be seeing more lake-specific management plans.  Anglers will benefit from stocking practices that make the best use of the available fish.  I can think of a few good recent examples:

Brown trout are most susceptible to lamprey attacks, thus they will likely never thrive for any real duration of time in Seneca Lake, given how hard it is to keep that lake’s lamprey population under control.  Seneca Lake has two large streams/delta areas where lampreys spawn.  Lamprey control is easier (though still a major effort) on Cayuga Lake.  We have seen some huge browns come out of Seneca Lake over the decades, but not with any consistency.  Browns do much better in Cayuga Lake.

Skaneateles Lake’s landlocked salmon have not provided anglers with much consistency over the years.  With plenty of walleyes now inhabiting that lake’s depths, salmon could better be utilized elsewhere.

On the positive side, landlocked salmon have done much better than brown trout in Seneca Lake – so we may see more salmon stocked over there.

Rainbows have great spawning success over the decades in many of the Finger Lakes tributaries.  Eggs hatch soon after spawning – they don’t have to winter over like brown trout and salmon eggs.  Rainbows are also less susceptible to thiamine deficiency that the other trout/salmon species.

Lake trout thrive very well here in the Finger Lakes.  They are a native species and evolved in these lakes.  They will always be the main salmonid in our coldwater Finger Lakes.

I’m happy to see fisheries departments doing more warm water research.  It’s important to see how bass, pike, yellow perch and other species are faring.  Bass are targeted heavily throughout the Finger Lakes and we need to make sure we have a handle on how they are doing in spite of numerous tournaments, invasive species and various diseases.

Maintaining a DEC Diary helps with fisheries management.  I’ve beaten this “dead horse” for years, but I don’t appear to be getting through to many people, given that diary cooperator numbers are still too low.

Here’s the link:

I’ve had a few people reach out to me and tell me that they never received a call back or a book from DEC.  Your best bet is to talk to somebody over there. With covid and hiring/staffing issues, it’s easy for a message to get lost in the shuffle.

Region 8 (Keuka, Canandaigua, Seneca, Canadice, Hemlock Lakes) Contact: (585) 226-5343.  You can ask for Dan over there.

Region 7 (Cayuga, Skaneateles, Owasco, Otisco Lakes) Contact: (607)753-3095Ian is a good person to ask for over there – he can be reached at X-254.