We had another great year for collecting muskie eggs. Many people had a great time and good weather for assisting the MNR staff with the egg collection efforts. This is the most critical and sensitive phase of the project, and the help by volunteers is greatly appreciated. At this time, I might mention that as of now, all volunteers must have their Pleasure Craft Operator's Card. This means that anyone assisting with the release of fall fingerlings or next year's egg collection must have a Pleasure Craft Operator's Card. This is part of new government policy and it will be enforced.
As you know, last year one of the problems we encountered was finding enough room for the fingerlings at the hatchery. Last year, we had a high number of muskie at the hatchery, and as the muskie grew the hatchery was faced with many challenges. Mark Newell did an amazing job by overcoming many of these challenges at the hatchery.
This year, we started the egg collection portion of the project with a bang. We caught seven muskie the first day of the project and we continued to catch muskie throughout the first week of the project on both Gloucester Pool and Georgian Bay. However, due to uncontrollable circumstances, we were not able to maintain the number of families, eggs and fry that we have reared in past years of the project. As many of us know, working with a wild population of muskie is always a challenge. We have had two very successful years, with 1615 fall fingerlings stocked in 2007, 69 yearlings stocked in 2008 and 1817 fall fingerlings stocked in 2008.
Mark Newell has done a tremendous job at the hatchery, watching over the fry. However, with all of his efforts and expertise, we have had a problem with several of the families converting to the feed. This is the same feed that we used last year at the hatchery, and there have not been any other changes at the hatchery. With all the experts working in the field of Ichthyology (fish), no one can figure out why we have experienced these challenges. It could be as simple as the strange weather that we have had this spring, or the biology of the families that were used in this year's collection. A number of Georgian Bay families have also been lost because they would not convert to the feed. Wild populations are unpredictable, and these fish can develop physical and/ or behavioral characteristics in the wild and in a hatchery. Unfortunately, we cannot control some of these developments.
There will still be fall fingerlings to stock into Lake Simcoe in October. The number of muskie presently at the hatchery are as follows:
GB Family #2: 320 fish
GB Family #3: 7 fish
GB Family #5: 120 fish
GP Yearlings: 55 fish
All of these fish have successfully converted to the pellet feed and are growing well. The partnership with the Wisconsin DNR is very important to the Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project. With this partnership, we are able to stock 20% of the muskie from the Georgian Bay families into Lake Simcoe, as well as all the fish from the Gloucester Pool families. This means that this year we will have a limited number of fall fingerlings to stock into Lake Simcoe. Without this partnership, we would have had less fall fingerlings to stock into Lake Simcoe this year.
As everyone should know by now, Mark Newell is the person who takes care of the muskie at the Fleming College hatchery facility. Mark has worked miracles with these fish over the last year. This is partly the result of the long hours he has dedicated to the hatchery, since this is not a 9 to 5 type of job, but more lake a 24/7 job. I can tell you that Mark feels for the losses this year, but he has raised the bar higher each year and we never thought that we would see the successes that we have seen. He has kept approximately 55 muskie over the last year, so these fish will be stocked into Lake Simcoe as yearlings. Yearlings have approximately 98% survival rate, however the chance of imprinting is slightly less than a fall fingerling. Presently, it is almost impossible to get fingerlings to the yearling stage because of cannibalism and challenges with feeding. Mark did this as an experiment and in doing so, he has accomplished the impossible. I do not think that anyone has been able to accomplish this with muskie before, congratulations Mark!
Now it is time to look forward to what is probably a brighter future for Muskies in Lake Simcoe because I have a story to tell you. This spring a gentleman went to the Talbot River (a tributary flowing into Lake Simcoe and one of our stocking sites) with the intentions of taking some underwater video of the spawning walleye. The problem was that the walleye had finished spawning and all that was remaining were perch and suckers and all of a sudden the flash of a Muskie. The short videos were studied by excited MNR biologists. Using all the fish in the videos to try and size these Muskies, it is believed the two muskie in the videos are approximately in the 25 inch size. There is a good chance they are probably some of the released fingerlings form our 2005 stocking as they would be about that size now. These muskie in the videos are most likely small mature males. You will remember that we stocked summer fingerlings from White Lake Provincial fish hatchery and fall fingerlings from the Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers Club ponds in 2005 at the Talbot River stocking site. If these are in fact stocked fish, it bodes well for the thousands of muskie that have been stocked which should also have a good chance for survival, only time will tell. By the time you read this, the videos should be on our webpage. One thing is for sure, there are young Muskies growing in Lake Simcoe and we have several years of stocking to go.
This year, the hatchery will be better for Mark Newell to manage as there are fewer fish per tank so overcrowding is not an issue this year. This means that we are focusing on producing high quality, large fingerlings to enhance survival. If anyone wants to arrange a visit to the hatchery please contact Mark. If there are only a couple of people interested in a tour, please try to schedule something during normal working hours. If there are a number of you then you might be able to arrange some other time. Mark is busy so all visits have to be pre- arranged. Mark can be reached at email@example.com.
Dave (Mr. B) Boxall
Manager/ Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program