Assessing the Effectiveness of Lake Trout Stocking Strategies in Lake Champlain Using Next-generation Genetic Tools
February 1, 2022 to January 31, 2024
Researchers will evaluate the performance of two lake trout strains and alternative stocking strategies currently used by New York and Vermont to restore lake trout to Lake Champlain. Partners include Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
As the native top predator in Lake Champlain and the focus of a popular recreational fishery, lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) play an important role in the lake’s ecosystem, local economies, and enjoyment by humans living nearby. However, the native lake trout were extirpated during the 19th century and the current population has been sustained by the annual stocking of hatchery-origin individuals. After more than 40 years of stocking, lake trout in Lake Champlain are finally producing wild offspring that are recruiting into the adult population. Lake trout historically made up a substantial portion of the native predator base within the lake, and the resumption of wild recruitment suggests that stocking may be a viable path to restoring the wild population. However, stocked fish also represent potential competitors for wild individuals.
Optimal management of both portions of the population must therefore be based upon a sound understanding of stocked fish performance in order to supplement the fishery and provide a strong spawning stock for wild recruitment without overstressing the available prey base. Researchers will conduct a genetic-based evaluation to produce the information necessary to achieve those goals and improve the management of Lake Champlain’s salmonid fisheries. Specific objectives include: to determine whether the lake trout stocked by New York (Seneca-strain at age-1 in spring) and Vermont (Champlain-strain at age-0 in fall) differ in survival from each other and wild fish; to determine whether the lake trout stocked by New York (Seneca-strain at age-1 in spring) and Vermont (Champlain-strain at age-0 in fall) differ in growth from each other and wild fish; and to assess the relative contribution of both stocking strains/strategies to wild production.