The fishery of a lake is an intrinsic, incredibly dynamic element of a lake system, and managing a lake’s fishery can be a very complex endeavor. There is actually a lot more to it than simply stocking game fish. Although there is no “one way” in fisheries management, there are key guidelines that can be followed to maximize the recreational potential of your lake’s fishery and increase the success of your fishery management and stocking efforts. Over the past two decades, Princeton Hydro has been working with lake, pond, and reservoir managers to help them to align water quality, fishery, and ecological goals.
Princeton Hydro’s Founder, Dr. Steve Souza, recently gave a presentation on fisheries management at the Spring Meeting of the New Jersey Coalition of Lake Associations (NJCOLA). We’ve compiled a few essential elements from his presentation and have made the complete presentation available for free download.
Let’s dive in!
Benefits of a Healthy Fishery
Recreational fishing is an outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. When children are introduced to fishing, it helps cultivate a connection to the environment, thereby promoting outdoor activity and environmental stewardship among today’s youth.
Anglers have always served as important advocates for the conservation of natural resources. The sale of fishing licenses financially supports wildlife habitat conservation and enhancement as well as the protection and improvement of water quality. This increases the ecological services and functions of lakes and adds to their societal and recreational benefits.
A healthy fishery can have significant positive impacts on water quality. In a balanced, healthy fishery the ratio of forage and game fish affects the entire food web, helping to maintain the proper balance of zooplankton and phytoplankton. The “top down” ecological control associated with a balanced fishery minimizes algae blooms, sustains good water clarity and stable water quality. However, when the fishery is out of balance, the water quality and overall ecological health of the lake often suffers.
Before You Stock, Know Your Lake and Start with a Baseline
Before you do any fish stocking, it’s best to conduct a fishery survey. A fishery survey provides the vital data needed to design a stocking and management plan.
A balanced lake fishery is dependent on good water quality, ample habitat, and the correct ratio of predator and prey fish species. A properly designed and implemented fishery survey generates the data needed to quantify the overall composition of the existing fish community (predator vs. prey), the make-up of the forage (food) base, and the density and robustness of the lake’s top piscivores (prized game fish).
The resulting data helps identify if your fishery is balanced, which fish to stock, and how many of each species to introduce. It will also provide the benchmarks needed to solidify your management goals and, later on, help determine if the goals are being met. To stay on track, we recommend that a comprehensive fishery survey be conducted once every three years. Be sure to use the correct types and combination of “active” and “passive” sampling gear and thoroughly sample both the open water and nearshore areas of the lake.
The survey should include the collection and analysis of water quality data, and the mapping of available habitat. Water column water quality “profiles” provide vital information pertaining to the lake’s thermal and dissolved oxygen properties; key factors for a healthy, vibrant fishery. Here are some basic water quality guidelines:
- Dissolved oxygen: ≥ 4 mg/L with 6-7 mg/L being ideal
- For warm water fishery: Uniform temperatures at all depth (minimal or no thermal stratification)
- For cold water fishery: Deep water temperature of 15 C, and dissolved oxygen ≥ 5 mg/L
- pH: 6 to 8
- Clarity: ≥ 3 feet (1 meter) Secchi disc transparency
- Total Phosphorus: < 0.05 mg/L
- Chlorophyll a: < 20 µg/L
During the survey, take the time to quantify and map the distribution of existing forage, spawning, and refuge habitat. Lack of adequate habitat can significantly impede the fishery’s sustainability. This begins with the bathymetric mapping of the lake, which is basically an underwater survey of the bottom of the lake. This mapping shows where and how much shallow water versus open water habitat exists. It can also help identify the location and distribution of important habitat types, such as shoals, rock piles, sandy open areas and natural structures (tree falls and snags). The data also helps determine where to create and introduce habitat, which can be in the form of brush piles, floating wetland islands, and other types of features that increase the spawning, recruitment, and foraging success of the fishery.
Stocking Your Lake
Once the fishery survey is completed, habitat is mapped and water quality analyzed, stocking can begin. In order to determine the specific stocking levels and rates that are right for your waterbody, here are some factors to consider:
Ensure your stocking efforts create or augment the correct ratio of predator (game) and prey (forage) fish.
Stock cautiously, focusing on a simple composition of predator and prey species. For most warm water lakes, largemouth bass should serve as the top predator and fathead minnow should be the primary prey.
Avoid problem fish, such as golden shiner, alewife and brown/black bullhead. Although these fish are often promoted as suitable forage species, they can be easily get overstocked and cause major disruptions of the fishery and to the degradation of water quality.
Go here for a more in-depth look at how to properly stock your fishery.
A healthy sustainable fishery isn’t only a function of the types and amounts of fish stocked in a lake; it is directly a function of water quality, the availability and quality of spawning, foraging and refuge habitat, the ratio of forage to predator fish, and the overall composition and balance of the food web.
Begin with a fishery survey; the resulting data enables a correctly planned and implemented stocking program. Conduct routine surveys to assess the status of the fishery and the success of the program. Also, annual water quality testing provides the information needed to make wise pro-active fishery management decisions. It will also provide insights into the lake’s environmental conditions to ensure they are supportive of a healthy, productive and sustainable recreational fishery.
If you’re interested in learning more about Princeton Hydro’s fisheries management or lake management services, please contact us.
Click here to download a full copy of Dr. Souza’s presentation, titled “How’s the Fishing? Maximizing the Recreational Potential of Your Lake’s Fishery,” which he recently presented at the NJCOLA Spring Meeting. The presentation provides an in-depth set of guidelines for fishery management, covering topics like data collection methods, habitat creation and enhancement, maximizing habitat quality, and details on various stocking species to consider for your lake.
NJCOLA unites lake communities throughout New Jersey through education and by formulating legislation favorable to the protection and enhancement of the State’s lake resources. NJCOLA meetings, held on a regular basis in the spring and fall, educate members on various topics and issues affecting lake communities ranging from legal to environmental.
The Spring NJCOLA meeting was well attended with over 60 participants representing lakes throughout New Jersey, including a number of lakes that are managed by Princeton Hydro – Lake Mohawk, Lake Hopatcong, White Meadow Lake, Lake Swanannona, Kehmah Lake, Culver Lake and Swartswood Lake.
To learn more about Princeton Hydro’s Pond and Lake services, including water quality sampling, bathymetric surveying, floating wetland islands, and fisheries, visit: http://bit.ly/pondlake