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Lake Simcoe Muskellunge RestorationApril 30 2007

Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project Fact Sheet - April, 2007

Muskies Canada Inc. (MCI), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and a host of partners dedicated to restoring a self sustaining population of muskellunge to Lake Simcoe, are preparing for an exciting year ahead. MCI volunteers and OMNR staff have been hard at work planning for a successful year building on a number of new partnerships including building a new facility dedicated to rearing muskellunge at Sir Sanford Fleming College and retrofitting the Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers hatchery.

A once vibrant and significant component of the Lake Simcoe fishery, the muskellunge population already showed a dramatic decline by the early 1900s. In 1904, over 50 years of commercial fishing for muskellunge had finally stopped, but some anglers of that era still blamed the original commercial fishery for the crash of the muskellunge population. By the 1930's, Lake Simcoe was already becoming a popular vacation destination. Cottages and homes increased, habitat was lost, spawning grounds were severely altered, carp numbers rose, and angling effort increased. From 1936 to 1969 over one million muskellunge were stocked into Lake Simcoe to try and boost the population. The Ontario government at the time had a muskellunge hatchery at Deer Lake that cultured muskellunge exclusively from the inland waters of the Kawartha Lakes. Habitat loss, over harvest, and ecological changes to the lake all played a role in the demise of the muskellunge in the early 1900's.

Since that time we have learned that muskellunge from the Kawartha Lakes are less likely to co-exist with northern pike. An example of this may lie within the waters of Canal Lake – the first Kawartha Lake east of Lake Simcoe on the Trent Severn Waterway System. Here a once excellent muskellunge fishery began deteriorating rapidly after northern pike showed up in significant numbers. For the last several years muskellunge on Canal Lake are scarce, whereas the pike fishery is booming.

Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration
The 2000 Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Feasibility study determined that restoring the native muskellunge to Lake Simcoe was a feasible fisheries management goal given improved water quality and sufficient habitat. The study offered several key recommendations to help restore muskellunge into Lake Simcoe. These included reducing the harvest of muskellunge, focusing on protecting and rehabilitating their habitat, re-establishing the population through stocking, and finally taking an adaptive management approach through monitoring and assessing restoration efforts throughout the life of the project.

The Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project (LSMRP) is a ten-year program of stocking, habitat rehabilitation, and assessment. Marked fish will be stocked for the first five years and assessed through juvenile and adult stages to evaluate the success of stocking in rebuilding the population. Spawning and nursery habitat assessment, rehabilitation and creation will continue throughout the ten-year life of the project.

Since January 1st, 2005, the muskellunge fishery on Lake's Simcoe and Couchiching has been closed and will remain so until at least 2010, when the program will be evaluated to determine whether another five year closure is necessary. The goal of the first five year phase of the project is to restore the muskellunge to Lake Simcoe by stocking fall fingerling fish in late September/early October. Muskellunge are very difficult to raise due to cannibalism and take a tremendous amount of care and "feeding" therefore stocking muskellunge is all about quality and not quantity.

The habitat component of this project is also essential to the successful restoration of muskellunge to Lake Simcoe. Wetland creation, enhancement and protection on both public and private land will enhance the present spawning and nursery habitat available to mus kellunge around the lake.

2006 LSMRP Highlights

  • Initiated a Lake Simcoe spawning and nursery habitat model
  • Raised a tremendous amount of support and funding for the project. A lottery for instance raised ~$15,000, a generous grant from the Canadian National Sportsman Shows contributed $10,000, and a $5,000 donation from OFAH Zone G
  • Installed "Know the Difference" signs at several key locations around Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching which was funded by Fishing Forever and the OMNR's CFWIP program.
  • Developed a partnership with Sir Sanford Fleming College in Lindsay to construct a rearing facility dedicated to rearing muskellunge in support of the LSMRP
  • Collected 3 families which were reared at the OMNR's White Lake Fish Culture Station
  • Stocked out 62 summer fingerlings

LSMRP Plans For 2007
In 2007, volunteers and OMNR staff will once again collect eggs in support of the LSMRP. Eggs will be reared at two locations, Sir Sanford Fleming College and the Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers' club hatchery. Unfortunately, due to concerns associated with a serious fish disease (VHS - viral hemorrhagic septicemia) OMNR's White Lake Fish Culture Station will not be able to rear muskellunge this year. However, experimental disinfection techniques will be tested this year to determine their efficiency in order to have White Lake rear muskellunge once again in 2008. Fall fingerlings produced from these facilities will be stocked during the fall of 2007. Other project goals for 2007 include:
  • Complete the construction of the rearing facility at Sir Sanford Fleming College
  • Retrofit the Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers' rearing facility located in Midland
  • Finish installing remainder of "Know the Difference" signs
  • Further develop habitat model to identify muskellunge spawning and nursery habitat as well as potential habitat rehabilitation sites around Lake Simcoe.

The goal of the Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project is to restore a self-sustaining muskellunge population to Lake Simcoe through a long-term restoration effort, including habitat enhancement and stocking. Muskies Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources anticipate that this effort will restore the population to once again sustain an important sport fishery. The goal, however, is not to create a "put, grow and take" fishery that will continually require ongoing stocking efforts.

For more information please contact:
Dave Boxall, Project Manager - Muskies Canada Inc.

Jason Borwick, Management Biologist – Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (Aurora District)
905-713-7404 email - jason.borwick@mnr.gov.on.ca

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