Lake Simcoe is one of the most intensively fished inland lakes in Ontario, due to its proximity to the GTA and other large communities, as well as its popularity during the ice fishing season (it is often considered the ice fishing capital of North America!) As expected, this can have an impact on the fishery of the lake and its tributaries. That doesn’t mean that projects aren’t in motion to help recover and preserve native species, however. Wil Wegman,Resource Management Technician, Aurora District, discusses the work being done in the ongoing Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program.
Q: Explain the program, what are its goals (is stocking just a part of it)?
A: Muskellunge (muskie) are a native member of the Lake Simcoe fish community. The species was lost by around the 1930’s in Lake Simcoe due to many variables, including over harvest from a commercial fishery and habitat loss or degradation. In the early 2000s, stakeholders such as Muskies Canada identified an interest in trying to restore a muskie population in Lake Simcoe. A partnership was born – The Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Program was developed between MNRF, Muskies Canada, Sir Sanford Fleming College, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and other project partners and local volunteers. The goal of the Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Program is to restore a self-sustaining muskie population in Lake Simcoe through a combination of stocking efforts and habitat enhancements and restoration. Once well-established our goal is to create a vibrant muskie sport fishery for recreational anglers. Currently the muskie season is closed year round.
Q: How are you achieving these goals?
A: Stocking muskie has been an important component to achieve our goals. We stocked about 2,197 this year and from 2005-2016 a total of 18,614 muskie have been stocked into Lake Simcoe. Additionally; habitat enhancement activities have been ongoing since 2014 and have included native plantings in coastal areas, rivers, and removing barriers to fish passage in Lake Simcoe tributaries
Q: What is the timeline for this project?
A: Every year we evaluate the program to determine additional efforts required. We assess the total number of fish stocked, and the amount of time required for fish to reach an age where they start to reproduce. Ultimately the goal will be to focus efforts on monitoring success to determine of project goals have been reached.
Q: How will this project improve biodiversity of area?
A: As a historically significant, native fish species, re-establishing a self-sustaining population of muskie into Lake Simcoe is important to MNRF, our key stakeholders and recreational anglers. Additionally as a top predator muskie play an important role balancing and augmenting the local fish community … adding to the overall biodiversity of the lake.
Q: Where do you source muskie fry from?
A: Egg collections occur from wild muskie captured in late April to mid-May from Gloucester Pool (Port Severn) and Georgian Bay each year. The genetic strain currently being used was selected based on assessing similarity in environmental conditions including temperature and habitat characteristics, as well as factors such as disease status and the ability to coexist with competing species such as Northern Pike.
Q: Are there any Interesting facts about raising them?
A: Muskellunge are reared at the hatcheries from the egg stage until late October or early November when they are released into Lake Simcoe as fall fingerlings. Rearing the fish until they reach this age (ranging in size from 20-25cm) increases their chance of survival and allows them to better adapt to lake conditions. There are many interesting facts about raising muskie but one of the most interesting is the dedicated and tireless effort it takes by staff and students at the College to sort out those cannibalistic individuals from the rest of the population. Most fish adapt well to eating pellet food provided, but those who prey on their own can cause major losses in very short order. Pellet feed works best in the hatchery setting until just a couple of weeks prior to stocking the fish, when they are transitioned over towards a small fish (minnow) diet. This gets the young muskie prepared for their life in the wild when they will have to capture their own food.
Q: Are there opportunities to volunteer?
A: We have a couple very dedicated volunteer groups through Muskies Canada and the Orillia Fish and Game Club. Most volunteers come from these two supporting clubs so anyone interested in volunteering (primarily to help stock muskie in late fall) should contact these two groups.
Resource Management Technician