By Jordanna N. Bergman, PhD Student, Carleton University and Steven J. Cooke, Professor, Carleton University
The Rideau Canal Waterway is a 202 km route of picturesque lakes, rivers, and artificial canals connected by 23 active lockstations and 45 locks. Originally constructed in the mid 1800s to facilitate commercial and military transport between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River, today the Rideau Canal is almost entirely operated to support recreational, cultural, and economic activities. In fact, the system is so iconic and unique that it received World Heritage Site designation from the United Nations. Managed by Parks Canada, the lock system is used by recreational boaters, canoeists, and kayakers during the navigation season (mid-May to mid-October) to travel throughout the waterway. With pristine aquatic habitats and one of the most diverse fish communities in Canada, the Rideau Canal is home to firstclass fishing and supports an important tourismbased industry for eastern Ontario. Trophy gamefish can be found in the waterway, including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides and M. dolomieu), Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), and northern pike (Esox lucius).
Have you ever wondered what else might be passing through locks with you beneath the surface? There’s a chance as you travel through a lockstation, fish are travelling right alongside you. Although lockmasters, anglers, and boaters have reported seeing fish inside locks, little is known about fish movement and behaviour related to lock-and-dam infrastructure. Do fish purposefully move through locks, or is it accidental? If they do move through locks, to what extent?
Are movements species-specific and/or seasonally driven? Students in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab at Carleton University are using acoustic telemetry equipment and generous help from anglers to investigate fish movements and the ecological connectivity of the Rideau Canal Waterway.
Biotelemetry, the tracking of animals using electronic tags, provides information on movement patterns of wild fish necessary to conservation and management efforts. Acoustic transmitters (i.e. tags) are surgically implanted into focal fish species and emit an underwater sound signal that sends unique identification information about that specific fish to acoustic receivers. Receivers, which are strategically placed beneath the water surface throughout the waterway prior to tagging, receive the sound signals and convert them to digital data that can be used to determine tag positions.
In the summer of 2019, we acoustically tagged 245 fish; these include two gamefish species, largemouth bass and northern pike, and two invasive species, common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) Additional efforts and experimental projects were focused on northern pike given that they are known to travel relatively long distances (up to 8km daily). The team deployed 90 acoustic receivers throughout the waterway in the spring and in November they will be braving the cold to retrieve them to download data and analyze fish movement patterns.
Another interesting aspect of our acoustic telemetry research involves the inclusion of invasive species. We acoustically tagged both common carp and the recently discovered round goby this past summer. Round Goby are of special concern as they are a newly introduced invasive species to the Rideau Canal. We are hopeful that we may be able to prevent their further spread by understanding, and exploiting, their spatial ecology (when and where a species distributes themselves over time to reside, avoid predation, forage, and for sexually mature individuals, reproduce). Round Goby were first documented in the canal during a scheduled water drawdown in Edmonds Lockstation in Smiths Falls in 2018. The round goby is a small (25cm max), highly aggressive, bottomdwellingfish that has been observed to predate on the eggs and young of nesting gamefish, appears to contribute to increased incidences of avian botulism, and as a result of competitive exclusion, often displaces native species to suboptimal habitat. Although our team struggled to capture round goby for weeks (a bittersweet sign, as we interpret this to mean population densities are still low) we finally identified a successful capture method using a backpack electrofishing unit. We implanted acoustic tags into 45 Round Goby. Upon retrieval of our acoustic receivers in November, round goby movements will be at the top of the list for analysis.
In addition to the aforementioned electronic tagging studies, we are also conducting an extensive external tagging study to investigate broadscale fish movements in the Rideau Canal. We are striving to tag and release 10,000 fish with external identification tags, also known as anchor tags. Besides a unique ID number, the tag also has contact information (email: firstname.lastname@example.org and phone number: (613) 520-2600 x4377) for anglers to report their catches. By partnering with anglers who report their catches of tagged fish, we can compare the original location the fish was tagged to the recapture location, and importantly, determine if that fish passed through any barriers (e.g. locks, dams) to adjacent water bodies. To date, we have tagged approximately 4,500 fish and will continue to tag fish until we reach our goal. Tagged fish species include Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Bullhead (Ictalurus spp.), Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Walleye (Stizostedium vitreum), Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), White Sucker (Catastomus commersoni), Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), and Muskellunge. To date, 171 fish have been recaptured as of October 2019, none of which were recaptured in canal reaches other than where they were initially tagged.
Over the next three years our team will continue working towards meeting the objective of tagging 10,000 fish and acoustically tagging a variety of fish species. By analyzing acoustic telemetry data in conjunction with anglerrecapture data, we hope to better understand fish connectivity in the Rideau Canal Waterway and use that information to support economically important gamefish and simultaneously minimize invasive species impacts. If you are curious to learn more about our research, or see a video of how fish are tagged, you can check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Cook eFECPL/ or visit our lab website at http://www.fecpl.ca/
Autumn skies are upon us and musky are in a flurry to fatten up before winter hits. As you enjoy the time on the water with a stick bait trailing behind the boat, SLAM….your heart is now pounding as you fight that prized Muskie and successfully get it to the boat. Upon landing you notice that one of the gills was nicked by a hook, and the water around the fish is stained with blood. All you can think is, now what? Will the fish survive or is there a way to stop the bleeding? You then recall seeing a video online that went viral not long, showing Mountain Dew being poured over the gills of a bass to stop bleeding. As you look to your cooler for something even close to Mountain Dew, you then also remember the discussion and debate online by anglers, writers and scientists, with some arguing that this is indeed an approach that should be embraced, while others urging caution since no scientific study has been done yet evaluating whether carbonated beverages control bleeding and improve the survival of injured fish. With no resolve, you do the best you can with this particular musky, and end your day hoping that this debate would soon be effectively put to rest.
This is where we come in. For the past few months we have been systematically testing whether a bleeding fish should have a carbonated beverage poured over bleeding gills following capture on hook and line. Although we had hoped to work on Muskies, given their rarity and size, we selected its sister species – northern pike – for the research. Given that we test this on live fish, we first needed to demonstrate that our science had valid purpose, and that our proposed procedures were in line with criteria laid out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Specific to our study design was experimentally injuring gills of fish by cutting out a standardized portion of gill filaments from a gill arch (see Image 1), and then pouring a selection of carbonated liquids over the gills to see if the bleeding stopped and for how long (details below).
What helped us get approval was that our research would resolve the frantic online debate, as well as provide evidence as to whether pouring carbonated beverages over bleeding gills would improve the outcome for an injured fish if it had to be released.
With a scientific collection permit in hand from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, it was time to start with the systematic and controlled evaluation of this longstanding questions. As with any systematic, scientific study, we had to consider and control for as many factors as possible, including water temperature, the size of the fish, and the type, amount, and temperature of carbonated beverage to be poured on the fish’s gills. Given that water temperature has a dramatic effect on the biology of fish, we opted to focus on late spring conditions when water temperature was between 11-18 C, and late summer when the temperature was 24-27 C. To then determine what type of carbonated beverage to use, we explored the different social media platforms that revealed the most common beverage being used by anglers on fish – that being Mountain Dew and Coca Cola. We also used plain carbonated lake water as a third liquid to be poured over bleeding gills, allowing us to test whether the additives in the soft drinks made a difference or it was just carbonation. For additional scientific rigor, we included two additional groups one ‘reference’ group where the fish’s gills were cut but nothing was poured on the wound, and the other being a ‘baseline’ group where nothing was done to the fish (it was simply held in a cooler for the same sampling period as the other fish).
For the experiment, fish were angled, landed, and placed into a trough filled with lake water. Fish were then measured and had their gill colour compared to a standardized scale (see Image 2), prior to being selected for one of the five groups mentioned above. Gill colour was recorded because it is relative to the amount of blood loss, with gills full of blood (most common) being bright red, and gills with lower and lower blood flow progressively lighter and lighter, to almost becoming white if fish bleed out.
For groups where gill tissue was removed, fish were individually placed in a cooler, and evaluated for relative bleeding intensity and the time it took for bleeding to stop. Relative bleeding intensity was based on the following scale: 0, no bleeding; 1, little bleeding, hard to see; 2, obviously bleeding, easy to see; and 3, intense bleeding, pulsatile blood flow. For the ‘popped’ or carbonated lake water groups, we recorded bleeding intensity immediately before and after a set volume of liquid poured directly onto the wounded gills. This would help us evaluate claims online suggesting that carbonated beverages reduced the amount of the blood loss. For all fish, additional bleeding values were recorded at range of intervals during a 20-minute holding period. After 20 minutes of holding the vigour and condition of the fish was recorded, and fish that were not moribund were released. To test whether the temperature of the pop makes a difference, we repeated the above series of experiments comparing how bleeding is affected by Mountain Dew at both 4 C (as if the pop just came out of an icefilled cooler) to 2 C (as if the pop had been sitting in a can in a koozie on the console of the boat for a few hours). We stuck to Mountain Dew for this experiment since it was the most common beverage being used in the videos online.
For both experiments combined we caught and evaluated over 200 northern pike. We are still analyzing the data to determine whether the different carbonated beverage treatments had an effect on bleeding. Stay tuned for more details and whether you are best to keep the carbonated beverages for yourself or to share them with your fish.
A roaming muskie dubbed James Bond is helping scientists spy on muskies that are so difficult to catch, they’re called the fish of 10,000 casts.
Researchers have tracked a muskie with 007 in its identifying records from the Detroit River to the far end of Lake Erie near Buffalo to Lake St. Clair and back to Lake Erie.
That is the most well-travelled muskellunge in an international study that is tracking 111 muskies with surgically implanted transmitters to understand what these large predator fish with a mouthful of teeth are doing.
This year we were delighted to have moved to a big new facility in Bowmanville, On. The Garnet B. Rickard Recreational Complex is a spacious facility with auditorium space to handle about 400 plus a whole rink pad for our exhibitors. This was one of the most important changes for the new Odyssey. The event had been poised to grow but our former location in St. Catherine’s On. was not big enough to accommodate our increasing number of exhibitor/vendors, and the larger crowds of muskie enthusiasts that we hoped would come.
Previous Odysseys attracted 425-450 people, but for 2019 we were hoping for a significant increase in attendees. Our challenge to increase attendance meant that we needed to put together a really strong educational program with some of Canada’s best muskie experts.
During the fall and early winter period we promoted the speaker line-up very heavy through the Muskies Canada web site and Facebook page. Our goal was to attract new people in addition to our regular fanatics. IN the New Year we began to promote the absolutely incredible ensemble of industry leaders and bait makers that had signed up to be part of the big show. Hats off to our MCI Web Director, Pierre Masson. During the last month before the show, one-by-one we featured these incredible vendors on our Facebook page.
On Thursday, April 11 we began the installations to set up the venue. Our electrical contractor and our draping supplier came in and set up the arena area.
Volunteers made it work:
Friday, April 12, we welcomed our volunteers, who came from Muskies Canada chapters everywhere. Volunteers have always been the heart of the Odyssey. This show is unique in that it is not a commercial, for-profit show. All the other muskie shows throughout the US are held by private interests as moneymakers for private investors. The Odyssey is the only one that is a not-for-profit show. It is the biggest fundraiser for Canada’s muskie fishery. Everyone embraced this idea and volunteered time and effort to contribute to the success of the show. Speakers paid their own travel costs to be part of the program and contribute their expertise.
Early on in the planning we recognized the important role that volunteers world inevitably play in making it all work. Knowing that we would need a lot of volunteers and that this would prove to be an important contributor to the success of the show, we asked Past-President, Chris Purdy to be volunteer coordinator. We decided to create a high-visibility t-shirt that identified each of our volunteers. These red shirts and the wonderful volunteers that filled them were a big hit at the Odyssey. See the note from Danna Parker, of Handlebarz.
The industry came together:
The new Odyssey plan was very attractive to our exhibitors and vendors. We drew up a floor plan with over 50% more space than ever before as we had room for 72 booths in the arena. After a lot of personal contact working with industry and baitmakers, this space completely sold out and we began a waiting list. Many of the vendors paid with product, which we were eager to have for the silent auctions and draws to be held during the event. Everyone understood the fundraising objective and chipped in to help. Some went above and beyond what was required to bring additional donations of services or products. Some who couldn’t be there (like DK Muskie Lures), donated baits or other products to help with our fundraising. One DK bait sold on Saturday for a record $550 at auction.
Friday morning we were ready for our vendors to come in and set up throughout the day. As they came in and discovered the new, attractive location, their spirits were high as they prepared their booths and tables for the good crowds we all hoped would come on Saturday. Load-in was smooth and effective. The buzz was very positive as industry members of our Canadian Muskie community got together and renewed friendships and business arrangements.
One of the new things we did for this year’s Odyssey was to produce nametags for the vendors and their pro-staff teams. It took a while to identify who would be there as part of the exhibitors’ teams but we were able to turn that into over 200 name tags that featured the Muskies Canada logo and identified the person wearing it as part of the expert staff that was available on the floor, ready to welcome attendees. Everyone that wore a nametag was promoting Muskies Canada and what we are doing.
Expert speakers drew a great audience:
Our speakers were awesome. We had so much positive response that we had more speakers than we could fit into the busy schedule. To organize the sessions, we developed themes that we thought would appeal to our existing clientele while attracting new people interested in muskies. The Women and Muskies panel was new and innovative, addressing this growing part of the muskie community. We also wanted to provide a place for the muskie fly-fishing community. They had 5 great speakers in a full-day program running concurrently with the main program. Of course, basic and advanced muskie fishing were important sessions, especially for the new audiences that are interested in how to get started (the right way with the right tools and techniques). Tech issues are always important as sonar and GPS technology changes and improves. Joslyn Leung is a popular speaker to help in this area. One of Canada’s best documentarians of the muskie experience is Bill Hamblin, author of “120 Days”, his very popular book. Finally we put together an extraordinary panel of experts showcasing the some of the best experts on Canada’s muskies. Jim Saric was brought in by Shimano Canada. Pro guides Mike Lazarus, John Anderson, Bill Barber, Rob Cowan, and Shawn Maher were hosted in a Q&A session by John Cowan, Mississauga member and sometimes co-host of Musky Hunter Television.
Managing the crowds:
We were hoping to almost double the attendance to 800. Our first sign that it would be popular was our advance ticket sales, which soared to over 600 by midnight the day before the event. Our next sign was the line-up that started at 2.30 am on show day. We had prepared the way for line-ups by offering to let advance-ticket holders to check in beginning at 7.30 am, a full hour before the exhibit area doors opened. When we began this at 7.30 we had over 250 people ready to come in. Fortunately the facility was big enough that we could bring everyone inside in an orderly line-up. When the exhort area doors opened at 8.30 am, we had an orderly inflow of excited people to kick things off. Our red-shirted volunteers were all on hand to help make it work smoothly. Total attendance was over 1,100.
Our biggest fundraiser:
All of this is to raise funds for Muskie research, education and conservation. The 2019 Odyssey produced a net proceeds of $18,358.02. These funds will go into a special Muskies Canada account to be used for the fishery.
The success of the 2019 Odyssey is the result of extraordinary teamwork. The Odyssey Committee included Pete Bostelmann, Bryan Mathes, Angelo DiDomizio, Chris Purdy, Jason Newell and Peter Levick. Meetings were held regularly throughout the year to work out the new plans and we were able to consult regularly with the Board of Directors. The team grew to include our growing number of volunteers so that by Odyssey day we were over 30 on the Odyssey team. Everyone was helpful and did a great job to assist with the exhibitors, attendees, media and contractors that were part of this record-breaking event.
See you next year:
Based on the success of the 2019 Muskie Odyssey, the Board of Directors has voted to hold the Odyssey annually.
Thank you to all that helped make the event work so well:
The Muskie Odyssey, a biennial event that attracts esox enthusiasts from all over the province, as well south of the border, had one of their best ever shows last month in Bowmanville, ON. Organized by volunteers from Muskies Canada, the Odyssey offers one-stop shopping for “everything muskie” – from retailers to guest speakers to the independent lure maker.
For a number of years now, women in fishing has been the fastest growing demographic, even more so than children, and more and more of them are stepping up to the challenge of catching the “fish of 10,000 casts”. New this year, the seminar agenda featured an all-women panel in which the speakers fielded questions from the audience and shared their muskie fishing experiences. Megan McGregor, Jessie Baker, Lauren Kozak, Chelsea Lynn and Ashley Rae provided seminar participants with tips and expertise to help anglers have a more successful day on the water. The seminar was one of the more popular presentations of the event and these young women are evidence that we are breaking away from the old stereotype that muskie fishing is for men only. Given its success, I expect this panel will be featured at Odysseys to come.
A few years ago, I decided to add muskie to my repertoire of species fished and, after an invitation to be a guest speaker at the Kawartha Lakes Chapter, I became a member of Muskies Canada to receive an education in this new frontier. From the start, the members were not only very welcoming, but generous in answering my many questions and enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge with me. As with many Muskies Canada members I have met over the last couple of years, the message of conservation and education is paramount to everyone involved in this organization and vital to the sustainability of the fishery.
In spring 2017, I approached the KLC chapter and asked for their assistance in helping run the first ever “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” event with Ontario Women Anglers, a non-profit organization I started in late 2012. The response was incredibly supportive and, through the collaboration of a small committee, we held the event in September of the same year with 10 boaters and two shifts of 20 women each. Held on Cameron Lake in Fenelon Falls, 40 women received a hands-on education on everything related to muskie fishing. The KLC members mentored the ladies on the water and instructed them on proper fish care and handling, the necessary equipment needed to manage these fish safely, the various baits, rods, reels, line and terminal tackle used in this typing of fishing as well as demonstrating both trolling and casting techniques. The women arrived armed with a myriad of questions in efforts to learn as much as they could about this new facet of fishing. As the outing was meant more to focus on education, I think we were all surprised at the number of muskie the women caught at the event.
Building on the success of our 2017 event, “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” will run again on October 5, 2019 on Cameron Lake in partnership with the Kawartha Lakes Chapter. As with our last outing, a BBQ lunch will be provided and we will have another great draw table which will include a Shimano Tranx 301AHG. Registration will open in August and anyone interested in the event can get more information by contacting me at my e-mail below.
As the number of women involved in muskie fishing continues to grow, partnerships between organizations like Muskies Canada and Ontario Women Anglers become increasingly more important and it is through these combined efforts that the “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” program can be brought to other chapters.
Yvonne Brown Muskies Canada KLC and Ontario Women Anglers
The final draw for the 2019 Conservation Lottery was held on May 5th at the Discover Georgina show at the Keswick Ice Palace. The reason for this location is simple, it was the Municipality of Georgina license office which granted us the lottery permits and the draw had to take place in their municipality. On hand to assist with the draw were Mr. Dan Fellini Ward 2 Councillor for Georgina, Mr. Scot Davidson MP (Conservative) for York Simcoe riding.
The winners of the early bird prizes Shimano Compre rod, Tranx 400 HG reel a300 yds. Of Power Pro were:
1st early bird winner was Mark MacFarland of the Mississauga Chapter.
2nd early Bird winner was Angelo Didomizio of the Kawartha Chapter.
Winner of the 15 HP Mercury ProKicker motor was a gentleman from St. Catherines, Mr. Dave Robitaille.
Winner of the 1 week stay in a deluxe 3 bedroom cottage at Scotsmen Point Resort was Mr. Dave Sullivan. Dave is the owner of City Marine the supplier of the grand prize Mercury package, and he purchased several tickets for the lottery.
Winner of the Lakewoods Monster Musky tackle box and the family of 4 custom painted Hose baits was Paul Baltovich. Paul purchased his ticket through Russell Hendrix. I am sure Russell has already tried to talk Paul out of his winnings.
Congratulations to all the winners. We also wish to thank our sponsors who generously donated or supplied items at great savings to MCI.
Dave Sullivan of City Marine for the Mercury outboard. Scotsman Point Resort for the 3 bedroom deluxe cottage 1 week stay. Bob Mahoney and Shimano Canada for the 2 early bird packages. Stacy Ash and Pro Tackle for the Lakewoods Tackle Box. Shawn (Hoser) Maher for the unique and one of a kind custom painted family of Hose Baits.
Today, it’s my sad duty to inform our community of the passing of Mr. David McIntaggart, “Duck Boat Dave”. A character you only had to meet once, then never struggle to put his name to the face. A second meeting would confirm his unwavering passion for his species of choice. A third, could include the ‘frightening prospect’ of a day on the river in the duck boat. Dave always had a story, a picture, and he never shied away from an opportunity speak or give pointers to new members.
Besides his legacy with Muskies, he provided support to many local charities. These included; the Ride for sight, local kids fishing camps and the Gananoque food bank. To this end, he donated 2 lures to be raffled off in support of the food bank.
Determined to see his extended family, with a little help from his friends, Dave held court at our last meeting. It was important for him to put us at ease. Dave let us know what a great life he had, with no regrets. He shared with us insights into his private life. Something personal, a card he had always held close to his chest. This was his deep Christian values and how it empowered him onto his next journey.
He did what he could for his community and never stopped giving.
The Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project (LSMRP) commenced in 2004. Before it started, there were several years of feasibility studies, which determined that restocking of Lake Simcoe was viable. Muskies Canada Executive asked the Toronto Chapter to lead the project for the club. Dave Boxall headed the LSMRP Team in the early years, with Steve Bedarf, Jim Kelly and Cupcake. In 2002 and 2003, the team had limited knowledge of how to raise wild Muskie, obtained eggs from Lake Couchiching, and experimented with outdoor ponds. These efforts were largely unsuccessful, due primarily to cannibalism, with no fingerlings in the first year and 8 in the second year.
The LSMRP then started in 2004. Our two main operational partners were the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Sir Sandford Fleming`s Lindsay hatchery (Fleming). The key people we worked with were Emily Funnell (Jason Borwick in the early years), Wil Wegman and Brent Shirley of the MNRF`s Aurora and Midhurst districts and Mark Newell of Fleming. The Muskies Canada team the past decade has been lead by Ian Young, Jim Kelly, Dave Boxall and Andy Pappas, with many volunteers assisting every year with both the collection of eggs in the spring in Gloucester Pool and the putting of fall fingerlings into the Lake in late October and early November. A lot of expertise regarding the raising of wild Muskies has been developed by all of these involved parties.
The original term of the Project was 10 years, with an annual target of 500 fall fingerlings and yearlings. This was later changed to 14 or 15 years, with an annual target in excess of 1,000 fingerlings and yearlings after Dr. John Casselman said he was sure we would be successful if we stocked muskies through 3 life cycles. Dr. Casselman is the world`s top living Muskie scientist. We have evidence from a similar 8 year restocking program of over 10,000 fingerlings and yearlings in the Spanish River that finished a decade ago (see article in the last issue of the RJ) which has been successful. There has been DNA proof of our stocked fingerlings surviving and many inadvertent catches and sightings of Muskie in Lake Simcoe. By the end of 2018, the LSMRP had lasted 14 years and we had stocked over 20,000 fingerlings and yearlings into Lake Simcoe.
The total cost of the LSMRP through 2018 has been over $1.5 million. Muskie Canada`s contribution has been over $250,000 ln cash plus many hours by volunteers each year in management meetings, assisting with the spring egg collections and putting of fingerlings and yearlings into the Lake in the fall. Muskie Canada`s fundraising efforts have been lead by Jim, Dave and Ian. Our main financial supporters have been the Becker Foundation (see separate article), the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (Zones E, G, H and J), Orillia Fish and Game, and Muskies Canada (National and the Kawartha Lakes, Hamilton, Barrie and Toronto Chapters). Thanks to a lot of hard work by Peter Levick to obtain approval from Georgina Township for Muskies to run a provincial lottery in 2016 and a lot of additional work by Tom McCutcheon to run the lottery since then, significant funds have been raised to help fund the LSMRP each year. Over $5,000 has also been donated by individuals to our “Adopt-a-Muskie” program, which we are running jointly with Fleming. These funds are currently in the Muskies Canada Foundation, earmarked for the LSMRP.
The LSMRP brings a lot of positive publicity each year to Muskies Canada and Muskie conservation. There have been many magazine and newspaper articles and film clips and interviews on television. The LSMRP was the first winner of the best fisheries conservation project in Canada when that annual award was started in 2010. There have also been presentations on the LSMRP at the two world Muskellunge symposiums in Ottawa and Minnetonka, Minnesota in 2014 and 2016. A scientific paper on the LSMRP, was published by the American Fisheries Society in 2017 in its book titled “Muskellunge Management”. A major reason why we have such a strong relationship with the Spring Fishing and Boat Show, and Andy and Vita Pallotta, has been the LSMRP. We developed Muskie Sunday, one of our two major annual fundraising efforts with the Odyssey, out of Andy`s desire to help us raise funds for the LSMRP and Muskie conservation.
There have been many benefits for Muskies Canada in addition to the satisfaction of helping to restore muskellunge to their historical waters in Lake Simcoe. Muskies Canada, the MNRF and Fleming are now likely the most knowledgeable raisers of wild muskellunge in the world We have developed tremendous partnerships and personal friendships with the MNRF, Fleming, OFAH, the Becker Foundation and Muskies Inc., Orillia Fish and Game, and many other partners. This project has been a significant help in raising Muskie Canada`s profile in the fishing and conservation worlds.
At the end of 2018 we had exceeded our expectations regarding the number of Muskie fingerlings and yearlings stocked into the Lake. The MNRF and Muskies Canada have jointly decided that 2019 is a good time to stop egg collections, rearing and stocking of muskies for the LSMRP. Thus, as Emily Funnell, Resources Management Supervisor of the MNRF`s Aurora District announced in a press release in December 2018, “We will not be undertaking egg collections, rearing and stocking in 2019. We will continue to engage with our partners and fisheries experts as we move into long term effectiveness monitoring.”
A special thank you to all of our partners and volunteers for their contributions to date. We look forward to continuing to work together in the future on the long-term monitoring program.
2018 marked the 14th year of the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program (LSMRP). The epitome of a true partnership, the LSMRP involves Muskies Canada, Orillia Fish and Game, Fleming College, the Becker Foundation, OFAH, Toronto Spring Fishing and Boat Show and MNRF’s Aurora and Midhurst Districts. This program aims to restore a self-sustaining Muskie population that is not reliant on stocking back into Lake Simcoe. Once plentiful in the lake, it is believed that by the 1930’s the species was almost extirpated due to a variety of reasons, including a prior commercial fishery, decreased spawning habitat quality increasing Pike numbers and a lack of catch and release ethic by anglers.
A Feasibility study conducted prior to the program’s start in 2005, determined that restoring Muskie was feasible, but likely wouldn’t be successful if the original or Kawartha strain Muskie was used to help restock the lake. Kawartha’s Muskie have proven to have little tolerance for, nor an ability to co-exist with Northern Pike whereas their cousins to the north in Georgian Bay, have long been able to co-exist. Therefore, all partners agreed that Georgian Bay strain Muskie would be used.
Since 2005, crews trap netted Muskie every spring in either Georgian Bay or nearby Gloucester Pool (considered same strain) hoping to collect as many as three families each year. But like all good things … it wasn’t easy! “If Muskie are known as the fish of 10,000 casts amongst us anglers, then they are quietly recognized as the fish of a thousand net sets for fisheries techs and biologists,” revealed long time Muskies Canada member, trap netting volunteer and LSMRP organizer Jim Kelly. “Some years we would capture several ripe male and female muskies and collect our full three families in less than two weeks while other years MNRF staff would have their nets out and check for 4 or 5 weeks and barely scrape out enough ripe Muskie for one family,” he added. Whatever the case however one thing was certain … that once the fertilized eggs were transferred over to Mark Newell – “The Muskie Whisperer” and Hatchery Manager at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, he would work his magic and get the absolute most out of every single egg, fry and fingerling he was tasked with raising!
Over the years the actual number of Muskie stocked into Lake Simcoe has varied tremendously … from less than a hundred at the start to as many as 4,000 in 2015.
After more than 10 years of trapnetting Muskie in Gloucester Pool, crews from Midhurst and Aurora realized that fewer and fewer Muskie were being caught there so they decided instead in 2018 to join forces with their MNRF Upper Great Lakes Management Unit (UGLMU) cohorts to help trap net Muskie in Severn Sound of Georgian Bay. Here they trap netted for over three weeks in early May and although several Muskie were captured … not all were ripe and willing to yield the eggs and milt required. One very large family however was collected from a big female with plenty of eggs and in the end, this proved to be the saving grace for 2018. “Mark was able to work his magic once again and get the absolute optimal results from that one family … enough that by early summer he was able to transfer 450 summer fingerlings to MNRF’s Harwood Fish Culture Station,” said Dave Boxall long time Muskie Canada member LSMRP organizer. Here, just like Mark was able to do at Fleming, staff did an amazing job ensuring cannibalism was kept at a minimum and only a small handful of mortalities were the result. So … by November stocking time about 1,700 fall fingerlings from Fleming were ready to be stocked into Lake Simcoe and 400 from Harwood were prepared for Georgian Bay at Severn Sound. “The major preparation procedure is basically switching all of the Muskie over from a pellet based feed – over to minnows. This helps acclimate all those individuals to the type of food source they’ll need to chase down and capture in their new homes if they want to survive” concluded Dave.
It was agreed beforehand that a portion of the total stocking numbers in 2018 should go back into the waterbody where the parents came from. On November 15, a crew from MNRF Aurora District, the UGLMU and Harwood Fish Culture, braved icy and snowy conditions to travel out on Georgian Bay in their Jon Boat to release 397 Muskie. “As Wil Wegman, with MNRF Aurora District who’s been connected with the LSMRP mentioned on his Instagram and Facebook Page, many of those young Muskie were stocked around the exact same area of Severn Sound where their parents were captured in trap nets that very spring and where that very important egg collection was conducted,” said Ian.
Stocking Muskie back into Lake Simcoe occurred successfully as well. On November 3rd, over 35 volunteers from Orillia Fish and Game, Muskies Canada, Bayshore Village Community, Fleming College and the Aurora Bassmasters … converged on Barnstable Bay in Lake Simcoe, and released 500 healthy young fingerlings between 7-9 inches from Fleming. On November 6th, Fleming students travelled by boat to the south side of Georgina Island and released 587 Muskie between there and the mainland. The Talbot River was the final stop for Muskie stocking in 2018 and for at least a year while the stocking portion of the LSMRP takes a one-year hiatus in 2019. Those 589 fall fingerlings and four larger yearlings were stocked throughout the river in prime habitat with more shiners to feed on than they could eat in a lifetime.
Ian Young is past president of MCI and lead for the LSMRP for his organization. “So after stocking over 20,000 Muskie into Lake Simcoe since 2005, it looks like, at Press Time anyways, that LSMRP will be taking at least a year off from capturing Muskie in the spring for egg collections and from raising Muskie at the hatcheries and releasing fall fingerlings in November”. There are several reasons for this hiatus, including current spending and travel restrictions on MNRF District staff since the new government came into power here in Ontario,
“After 14 years we are nearing the end of the project and it is now timely to sit back and re-evaluate where the program should go from here. Without trap netting and stocking, in 2019 and beyond, I know MNRF staff would like to focus more on monitoring Lake Simcoe and it’s rivers to try and determine how successful the program has been and where all those stocked Muskie and their offspring can be found. So here at Muskies Canada, we are on board with that in a big way and we look forward to an ongoing partnership with the fine staff at MNRF. We have made some great working relationships and personal friendships with these dedicated Muskie enthusiasts and we know that won’t end anytime soon,” concluded Ian.
Quentin Rougemont1, Anne Carrier2, Jeremy Le-luyer3, Anne-Laure Ferchaud1, John M. Farrell4, Daniel Hatin5, Philippe Brodeur6, Louis Bernatchez1
1Département de biologie, Institut de biologie intégrative et des systèmes (IBIS), Université Laval, G1V 0A6, Québec, Canada 2Département de techniques du milieu naturel, Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau, Cégep de Saint-Félicien, Chibougamau, G8P 2E9, Canada 3IFREMER, Unité Ressources Marines en Polynésie, Centre Océanologique du Pacifique – Vairao – BP 49 – 98179 Taravao – Tahiti – Polynésie Française 4Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 13210, Syracuse, New York, USA. 5Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de l’Estrie-Montréal-Montérégie-Laval, 201, Place Charles-Le Moyne, Longueuil, Québec, J4K 2T5, Canada 6Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec, 100, rue Laviolette, bureau 207, Trois-Rivières, Québec, G9A 5S9, Canada
Over the past decades, an increasing number of fish species have undergone strong decrease in their abundance due to various human activities. Such activities may prevent the free movement of fish, generates pollution and habitat loss, overfishing and many additional problems. To overcome these demographic declines, numerous stocking programs have been implemented to sustain fish populations worldwide. This is the case of the Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) in the province of Québec, Canada. The species is renowned for his trophy-size specimens which are highly prized by anglers. However, Muskellunge has undergone strong decline in abundance during the first half of the 20th century in the waters of the St. Lawrence River, especially in the greater Montréal region. Consequently, Muskellunge from Ontario and New York State were used for stocking over 1.5 million of individuals from 1950 to 1997. From 1950 to 1965, eggs initially taken from the Chautauqua Lake (New York State, USA) were transferred to the Lachine government hatchery in Québec where fry were reared before being released into the St. Lawrence River, several of its main tributaries and inland lakes. From 1965 to 1986, adults from Lake Joseph were used as source for stocking. Finally, from 1986 to 1997, eggs from Lake Tremblant were used. Muskellunge populations from Joseph and Tremblant Lakes were originally introduced with fish from the Lake Chautauqua source (see details about stocking history in Carrier et al.).
An optimal management of Muskellunge can only be achieved through a detailed understanding of its population structure and of the extant of connectivity between distinct populations. In particular, the existence of genetically differentiated populations with some level of reproductive isolation must be taken into account for sound conservation and management practices. Moreover, genetically distinct groups of fish may evolve to local adaptation in response to particular habitat characteristics (temperature, water chemistry, etc.). Those adaptations allow fish from distinct populations to optimize their reproduction and survival in a given habitat. It is therefore necessary to preserve the natural genetic variation present within a species in order to ensure its potential to evolve and survive in an ever changing environment. Such knowledge will be fundamental to define management units for fishery management, habitat protection and restoration, which is particularly important in highly connected systems such as the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. Finally, genetics can inform on the extent of hybridization that may have occurred between wild, local fish and fish artificially introduced by stocking.
The genetic structure and diversity of Muskellunge within the St. Lawrence River, its major tributaries and inland lakes of Québec have never been studied. Therefore, the present study has been realised to : 1) evaluate the level of genetic structure in Muskellunge, 2) measure the impact of historical stocking on the genetic structure and diversity, and 3) define evolutionary significant units relevant for population management and to maintain a sustainable resource for angling.
Sampling and genetic characteristics
A total of 662 Muskellunge have been captured in 22 sites for approximately 24 fish per location (Figure 1). Those samples were essentially obtained with the help of professional fishing guides (Mr. Marc Thorpe, Mr. Mike Lazarus, and Mr. Michael Philips), their customers, volunteer sport fishermen, and wildlife technicians. A tiny portion of a pelvic fin was clipped for each fish (1 cm², 100 mg) and preserved in alcohol for further genetic analyses in the laboratory of L. Bernatchez at Laval University in Québec. All fish were released after capture.
This extensive sampling made it possible to cover the sections of the St. Lawrence River, from the Thousand Islands region to Lake Saint-Pierre, its major tributaries and some inland lakes of Québec. The major sources of stocking were also sampled : 1) Chautauqua (New York State) and Pigeon (Kawartha Lakes system, Ontario) Lakes, 2) Joseph Lake, and 3) Tremblant Lake. Muskellunge was introduced in these last two lakes and were used as sources for stocking a few years later. Finally, Lake Traverse located in the Mauricie region of Québec has never been stocked to our knowledge and was included in our study.
DNA from individual fish was extracted from the preserved biopsies in the laboratory. This DNA was then characterized using a new sequencing technology allowing to read each DNA variation over a large part of the fish genome. It was then possible to identify for each fish, over 16 000 genetic variants. Such variants were compared among individuals and among sampling sites, which allowed quantifying the genetic diversity of the species, its population structure and document the impact of past stocking events on the genetic makeup of wild populations.
Population genetic structure
The genetic results revealed a moderate level of genetic diversity compared with other freshwater fish species that have been studied using similar methods. The effective size of populations, estimated from genetic data, is the number of broods that reproduce effectively, thus transmitting their genetic background to their offspring. In general, the total number of fish in a population can be 10 to 100 times higher than the number of effective individuals. Effective population sizes were generally quite low among Muskellunge populations, especially for isolated lakes. In the St. Lawrence River, the estimate of the effective size was 669 for all sites grouped together. This value is considered moderate compared to other freshwater species, but reflects the unique characteristics of the Muskellunge life-cycle (high longevity, highest position in the food chain, solitary and territorial behaviours) and its typically low population density. These findings highlight the vulnerability of this species and the importance of applying specific protection measures to ensure its sustainability.
The measures of genetic differentiation and population structure suggest the existence of eight distinct genetic groups in the system under study. The first group includes the Muskellunge used as stocking sources and the sites directly derived from this source, namely Chautauqua, Joseph, Tremblant, Frontière, and Maskinongé Lakes, as well as the Chaudière and Saint-Maurice Rivers. This confirms the common origin of the muskellunge of these water bodies, all derived from the source of Lake Chautauqua (New York State). For the Chaudière and Saint-Maurice Rivers, available knowledge suggest that Muskellunge abundance was initially low in those systems, and that stocking would have established perennial populations. The second group corresponds to the l’Achigan River and the third group to the Yamaska River, which are genetically distinct from the St. Lawrence River. The fourth group consists of all sites within the St. Lawrence River, from the Thousand Islands to Lake Saint-Pierre. The fifth group is Lake des Deux-Montagnes, which is also genetically distinct from the Muskellunge of the whole St. Lawrence River. It is noteworthy that Muskellunge from Lake des Deux-Montagnes show a certain proportion of migration to Lake Saint-Louis. Most of these migratory individuals (83%) were found on the North shore of Lake Saint-Louis, which is fed by water coming from the Ottawa River. The sixth group consists of isolated lakes that have never been stocked, represented in this study by Lake Traverse. This body of water has a unique genetic makeup that needs to be preserved. The seventh group corresponds to Pigeon Lake (Kawartha Lakes system in Ontario), used for stocking to a lesser extent than other water bodies, and the eighth group is Lake Champlain.
Although the St. Lawrence River formed a single population, the genetic differentiation between individuals increased with distance between them. This pattern is a consequence of the geographically reduced dispersal of individuals across the entire St. Lawrence River. In addition, the extant of genetic variation observed in the St. Lawrence River proves to be continuous, that is, there are no real, highly differentiated genetic groups. This suggests that dispersal can occur freely from upstream to downstream, although it is obviously reduced upstream by the presence of the two major obstacles on the St. Lawrence River (Beauharnois and Moses-Saunders dams).
Fine scale analysis of genetic mixing patterns allowed us to estimate the effect of stocking on the genetic structure of populations (Figure 2). This analysis revealed that stocking had very little effect on the genetic integrity of wild populations in the St. Lawrence River. Indeed, we found very little evidence of genetic mixing of Chatauqua, Joseph or Tremblant Lakes strains used as source populations. Conversely, there is evidence of pronounced genetic mixing in some lakes and tributaries of the St. Lawrence, despite the fact that they have in most cases received smaller quantities of stocked fish than the St. Lawrence River. This is the case for the Saint-Maurice and Chaudière Rivers, as well as for Maskinongé Lake, where there was a mixture of local (represented in black in Figure 2) and introduced (represented in green in Figure 2) genetic makeups. The main hypothesis likely to explain this pattern is that stocking has had variable effects depending on the initial size of the populations being stocked. In general, it is expected that stocking done with individuals from different genetic groups, in this case individuals from distant lakes (differences in climate and habitat types), is potentially ineffective due to lack of adaptation of stocked individuals to local conditions. It is therefore possible that the individuals stocked in the St. Lawrence River had a low reproductive success and/or that hybrids resulting from reproduction were poorly adapted to local conditions, ultimately showing a low survival rate. Thus, non-native Muskellunge may have been displaced in the St. Lawrence, which potentially had a larger population size than isolated lakes or tributaries.
Our results suggest that from a genetic point of view, the entire St. Lawrence River, from the Thousand Islands region to Lake Saint-Pierre, can be considered as a single population within which genetic differentiation of individuals increase slightly with distance. Thus, a single management unit would be sufficient on the St. Lawrence River to ensure the maintenance of genetic diversity in this system. Of course, individuals who are isolated by impassable obstacles should be managed locally. This is particularly the case of Lake St-François, enclosed by dams upstream (Moses-Saunders) and downstream (Beauharnois). The second management unit includes Lake des Deux-Montagnes, which is genetically different from the St. Lawrence River population. The third group consists of the tributaries of the St. Lawrence River, each representing a distinct unit with some nuance depending on the abundance of Muskellunge prior to stocking. Thus, l’Achigan and Yamaska Rivers showed little evidence of hybridization with stocked fish while the Chaudière and Saint-Maurice Rivers have a more pronounced genetic mixing profile with the stocking sources. The fourth group consists of lakes stocked directly from Chautauqua Lake (Joseph, Tremblant, and Frontière Lakes) which all share a strong genetic similarity with Chautauqua Lake. The fifth group includes lakes into which the Muskellunge was initially present (Maskinongé and Champlain Lakes) where apparently only modest mixing occurred. Finally, Traverse Lake is one of the few, if not the only unstocked natural population in Québec with a unique genetic makeup.
In conclusion, in systems previously unoccupied by Muskellunge or with a very low density of individuals, stocking has made it possible to sustain local populations in the long term and therefore, have helped to enhance recreational fishing activities. Although stocking has temporarily contributed to the species recruitment and to the Muskellunge fishery in the Montréal region of the St. Lawrence system (see the article of Carrier et al. in the present issue), it does not appear to have been successful in the long term, possibly because of the poor adaptation of the stocked individuals to the particular local conditions of a large river such as the St. Lawrence. However, they may have contributed to sustain the fishery on the short term (see Carrier et al. in the present issue). During your next fishing trip, for example on the St. Lawrence River or on Lake des Deux-Montagnes, you will be able to assert that you most likely caught native Muskellunge of local origin. Based on the results of this study, we recommend avoiding future stocking without detailed knowledge of stock abundance, diversity and genetic structure, and of the level of exchange between them. Actions aiming habitat protection and restoration should rather be prioritized in order to optimize the success of natural reproduction.
We express our gratitude to muskies anglers who collected most of the samples, especially to Marc Thorpe, Mike Lazarus and Michael Phillips. We thank Christopher Legard (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) for collecting and sharing Chautauqua Lake samples. We thank Samuel Cartier for collecting Lake Champlain fish. Thanks to Chris Wilson (Aquatic Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) for sharing Pigeon Lake DNA samples and to Christopher Wilson (Fish Culture Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) for sharing hatcheries and stocking history between Ontario and Québec. Thanks to Shawn Good (Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department) and Jeffrey J. Loukmas (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) for sharing historical management and stocking history of Lake Champlain. We also thank Nicolas Auclair, Florent Archambault, Rémi Bacon, Christian Beaudoin, Anabel Carrier, Chantal Côté, Julie Deschesnes, François Girard, Guillaume Lemieux, Louise Nadon, Yves Paradis, Geneviève Richard, and Éliane Valiquette for logistic, field and laboratory assistance. Funding was provided by the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, Canadian Research Chair in Genomics and Conservation of Aquatic Resources, Fondation héritage faune (Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs), Ressources Aquatiques Québec, and Muskies Inc.
Shimano is proud sponsor of the 2020 Muskie Odyssey