This project is part of an initiative undertaken since 2010 by the ministère de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) and its many partners to update knowledge about Québec Muskellunge and optimize its management. To measure the current state of the Muskellunge sport fishery in the St. Lawrence River and the des Deux-Montagnes Lake, a survey of the catches was conducted from 2010 to 2013, with the collaboration of three professional fishing guides. In the section of the river located between Montréal and Sorel and in Lake Saint-Pierre, the lower abundance of young specimens harvested by sport fishermen suggested lower recruitment of young Muskellunge in these two bodies of water, compared to Lakes Saint-Louis and des Deux-Montagnes (see Carrier et al. in the present issue for more details).
Some anthropogenic activities have a negative impact on the St. Lawrence ecosystem. They have recently resulted in a deterioration of aquatic habitats, particularly in Lake Saint-Pierre. Nearly 5 000 ha of fish breeding, nursery, and growth habitats in the floodplain has been altered due to the intensification of agricultural practices over the last three decades (de la Chenelière et al. 2014). The loss of large areas of submerged aquatic vegetation beds since the mid-2000s (Figure 1; Magnan et al. 2017) and the proliferation of benthic cyanobacteria (Hudon et al. 2012), which develop on the bottom of Lake Saint-Pierre, have also been documented. These wetlands represent growth habitats and refuges for several fish species. This situation raises fundamental questions about the potential effects of habitat loss on a large predator species such as Muskellunge. In addition, critical breeding and growth habitats of juvenile Muskellunge have never been identified in Lake Saint-Pierre, which limits our ability to properly protect and restore habitats of this species. A study was therefore initiated to monitor adult Muskellunge movements during the spawning and growth seasons, to determine habitat characteristics selected by fish and to locate breeding and rearing areas of juveniles.
The identification of movement patterns and the precise location of Muskellunge has been made possible through the use of advanced telemetry technologies.
Two types of transmitters have been inserted into the fish abdomen: an acoustic transmitter, which is detected by stationary receivers at strategic locations in the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries (Figure 2) and a radio transmitter including an external antenna visible on the ventral portion of the fish, allowing precise location of the specimens using a mobile receiver, operated from a plain or a boat (Figure 3). In spring 2017 and spring 2018, a total of about 80 fixed receivers were deposited annually near the waterbed between Montréal and the Gentilly sector (Figure 4). These receivers, recovered at the end of each autumn, continuously record the passage of tagged fish. The number of the individual, the date and time of passage are then extracted and used for migration analysis purposes.
This information provides information on habitat use and residence time of Muskellunge in various sections of the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. They also help defining the periods and patterns of seasonal migration of the species. In addition, accurate, real-time fish telemetry locations provide information on the location and characteristics of adult staging sites during spring breeding and during summer and fall growth seasons.
A total of 21 Muskellunge were caught by sport fishing thanks to the valuable collaboration of two professional anglers, Mr. Mike Lazarus and Mr. Marc Thorpe, and to the MFFP wildlife technicians. The fish were surgically fitted with transmitters during the fall of 2016 and fall of 2017. Females and males ranged from 38 to 52 inches in size (Figure 5). The implementation of the transmitters carried out by the wildlife technicians of the MFFP went very well. All Muskellunge were located on at least one occasion, approximately 6 to 18 months after being tagged, indicating that all individuals survived after surgery.
Ten individuals tagged in the fall of 2016 were followed by boat and plain between April 25 and May 24, 2017. During this period, which includes migration to breeding sites and spawning activities, 112 locations of individual Muskellunge were noted. The habitat selected by each individual was also characterized (vegetation, substrate, temperature, current velocity, oxygen concentration, depth, etc.). The locations recorded in the spring of 2017 showed that all Muskellunge tagged at Lake Saint-Pierre during the previous fall used the Lake Saint-Pierre area to reproduce. The data revealed that 38 % of radio tagged individuals used Lake Saint-Pierre tributaries during the breeding season (April-May). Specimens were located in the du Loup, Saint-François and Nicolet Rivers, as well as in the Chenal Tardif (a section of the Saint-François River). After breeding, these individuals migrated to feeding habitats in the St. Lawrence River. The rest of the individuals used Lake St. Pierre wetlands during the spawning season. In the spring, Muskellunge were found at depths ranging from 0.6 to 8.2 m (mean : 3.1 m), in low current velocity, mostly lower than 0.1 m/s. In the majority of cases, Muskellunge were found in habitats showing submerged vegetation of moderate to high abundance.
The analysis of movements recorded in 2017, based on data collected by dozens of fixed receivers, showed that after the breeding season, the majority of fish tagged in the fall of 2016 in Lake Saint-Pierre spent some time in this area during the summer and fall of 2017. However, during summer, 60% of the individuals made large-scale migrations towards the stretch of the river located between Montréal and Sorel. Some Muskellunge even reached the stations located near the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montréal.
In order to track the movements of the 21 tagged individuals, the telemetry monitoring work will continue in 2018 and 2019. All the results collected during this project will enable to identify and map the preferential habitats for Muskellunge, particularly for reproduction, which could be protected or restored as needed. The preliminary results of 2017 already underline the role of the shallow marshes of Lake Saint-Pierre and some of its tributaries for the reproduction of the species. It will be important to validate these observations over the next few years, to estimate the contribution of these various sectors to the recruitment of the species and to evaluate the state of health of habitats. In addition, the long-distance migrations reported in 2017 emphasize that the management of Muskellunge and its habitats must be done at the scale of the entire studied fluvial section, including the downstream portion of the tributaries. This finding is supported by the results of the genetic structure of populations, which demonstrated the homogeneity of the genetic signature of the Muskellunge population in the St. Lawrence stretch located between Lake Saint-Louis and Lake Saint-Pierre (see Rougemont et al. in the present issue for details on population genetics).
Warning to anglers
If you catch a marked Muskellunge, you must release it after noting the fish and telephone number written on the tag that is inserted at the base of the dorsal fin (it is often necessary to scrape the surface of the label to clearly see the numbers therein). Be careful, it is important to avoid taking the specimen out of the water and to limit the handling time. Moreover, these tips apply to all Muskellunge catches, whether tagged or not. Then contact a MFFP biologist at the number written on the tag to provide the date, location of capture, and, if possible, pictures of the ventral portion of the fish.
We would like to thank all the partners who participated in the financing and the realization of the telemetry work. Special thanks to professional fishermen Mike Lazarus and Marc Thorpe for their support throughout the development of the study and for their participation in the capture of the specimens. Thanks also to Florent Archambault, Nicolas Auclair, Rémi Bacon, Virginie Boivin, Chantal Côté, Charles-Étienne Gagnon, Guillaume Lemieux, Yves Paradis, and René Perreault for their support and for all efforts in the field. The project is made possible by the collaboration and financial support of the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, of the Comité ZIP du lac Saint-Pierre, of Muskies Canada, of the Fondation de la faune du Québec, of Thomas marine, of the Fondation héritage faune (Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et des pêcheurs) and of some private donors.
De la Chenelière, V., P. Brodeur et M. Mingelbier (2014). Restauration des habitats du lac Saint-Pierre : un prérequis au rétablissement de la perchaude. Le Naturaliste canadien. 138 (2) : 50-61.
Hudon, C., A. Cattaneo, A.-M. Tourville Poirier, P. Brodeur, P. Dumont, Y. Mailhot, Y.-P. Amyot, S.-P. Despatie and Y. De Lafontaine (2012). Oligotrophication from wetland epuration alters the riverine trophic network and carrying capacity for fish. Aquatic Sciences. 74 : 495-511.
Magnan, P., P. Brodeur, É. Paquin, N. Vachon, Y. Paradis, P. Dumont et Y. Mailhot (2017). État du stock de perchaudes du lac Saint-Pierre en 2016. Comité scientifique sur la gestion de la perchaude du lac Saint-Pierre. Chaire de recherche du Canada en écologie des eaux douces, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières et ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs. vii + 34 pages + annexes.
Anne Carrier ¹ ², Philippe Brodeur³, Daniel Hatin⁴ and 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
³Ministère 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, G9A 5S9, Canada
⁴Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de l’Estrie-Montréal- Montérégie-Laval, 201, Place Charles-LeMoyne, Longueuil, Québec, J4K 2T5, Canada
Muskellunge is one of the most mythical and impressive fish species. Over the past two centuries, biologists and Muskellunge anglers have documented many fascinating aspects of its biology. For example, it’s impressive size (Bernatchez and Giroux 2012), its unusual migration abilities (Kerr and Jones 2017) and even its surprising reproductive behavior (Crossman 1990, Jennings et al. 2011). The history regarding Muskellunge is fascinating, as evidenced by the origin of its name and the history of its management, which reveal the particular importance of Muskellunge in Québec.
This article is a non-exhaustive historical overview of some of the most important aspects of Muskellunge management in Québec. It includes some historical references regarding the nomenclature and taxonomy of Muskellunge, its original and contemporary spatial distribution and the stocking history. This article reports the work done as part of a Master’s thesis, which first aimed at gathering available historical information that would support the interpretation of genetic data on Muskellunge in Québec waters (see article of Rougemont et al. in this issue).
Taxonomy and Québec folklore
As early as the colonization time of New France, documents from the Société Provancher mentions that the first viceroy of France, Sieur Jean-François La Rocque de Roberval, used the basin of the Maskinongé River as his fishing territory. At the time, Muskellunge was a well-known species as evidenced by the multiple presumed Amerindian roots of its name, which meant big pike, ugly pike or spotted pike (Crossman 1986, MacCaughey 1917). Gradually, these appellations have derived to become « long mask » or « elongated mask » in Québec French. Today, the two generally accepted names are « maskinongé » in Canada and « Muskellunge » in the United States, but there are between 40 and 94 common names in French only (see Mellen 1917, Chambers 1923, Weed 1927 and Crossman 1986 for an exhaustive inventory of the different names and their origin). As mentioned by Crossman (1986), probably no other fish has, in a single language, as many forms or spelling of its common name. According to Weed (1927), the number of its common names is a fairly reliable index of the extent to which a fish attracts attention. This partly explains this diverse nomenclature, but as Mongeau (1976) points out, this taxonomic confusion also certainly comes from its great resemblance to the Northern pike (Esox lucius) and the fact that it has been recognized quite lately as a different species from his cousin.
Commercial fishing and natural distribution in the 19th century
Since the nomenclature of the species was highly variable until the beginning of the 20th century, it is very difficult to interpret observations regarding the Muskellunge distribution until the 1900s. In the 19th century, Muskellunge was highly prised by native and non-native anglers and, because of the quality of its flesh and its imposing size, it contributed to a significant commercial fishery in Québec. Although today the opinions are mixed about the taste of the Muskellunge flesh, the naturalist Constantine Rafinesque mentioned in 1818 that « it is one of the best fish (…) its flesh is very delicate and divides easily like salmon, in large white patches like snow » (MacCaughey 1917). According to historical records of the Canadian fisheries management authorities (Crossman 1986), nearly 2.9 million pounds, representing approximately 192 535 Muskellunge, were harvested by the commercial fishery in Québec from 1868 to 1936. Interestingly, commercial catches of Muskellunge in the waters of the Montréal area accounted for 90 % of the landings of this species throughout the province (Fry et al. 1942). Muskellunge commercial fishing ceased in 1936.
The historical texts suggest that native Muskellunge was found only in southern Québec, even if its northern and southern distribution limits are only very slightly defined. Its distribution was likely limited to the waters of the St. Lawrence River watershed and some of its tributaries from the Ottawa River to Québec City (Small 1883, Dymond 1939, Vézina 1977). According to information available at the end of the 19th century, native Muskellunge was found from the southern border of the province (including the Champlain Lake and the Richelieu River watersheds) to Northwest of Outaouais, Laurentides, Lanaudière, and Mauricie regions (Dymond 1939). Specifically, Dymond (1939), Small (1883), Halkett (1906 and 1907), and Montpetit (1897) report that Muskellunge was present (1) in the Rideau River north of Merrickville (Outaouais, Québec), (2) in the Ottawa River south of Rapides des Joachim (MRC de Pontiac, Outaouais, Québec), south of the Petawawa River and up to Travers Lake (Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario), and (3) in several lakes connected to the Gatineau and du Lièvre Rivers, including Gilmour, Donaldson, and Plumbago Lakes (MRC Collines-de-l’Outaouais, Outaouais, Québec). In addition, some isolated populations were discovered in 1968 after the dismantling of private fishing clubs in the Mauricie region, specifically in the des Envies River watershed, which is a tributary of the Batiscan River, where the Traverse Lake (Potvin 1973, Pageau et al. 1978) analyzed in the study of Rougemont et al. (see article in this issue) is located. Finally, according to the interpretation of Fry et al. (1942), quoted by Robitaille and Cotton (1992), the most important native population in Québec would have been in Lake St-Louis, a fluvial lake of the St. Lawrence River.
Active management period
Muskellunge has been one of the most stocked fish species in Québec (Dumont 1991). Prior to 1950, few Muskellunge stocking in Québec were recorded in the literature (MacCaughey 1917, Dymond 1939, Small 1883, Halkett 1906 and 1907). At the end of the first half of the 20th century, a significant decline of Muskellunge populations in the waters of the St. Lawrence River and of the Montréal Archipelago, associated with overfishing and habitat loss, raised worries and questions. Therefore, the wildlife management authorities undertook a major restoration project which included the construction of the very first Muskellunge hatchery facility in Lachine (borough of Montréal city, Québec) (Pictures 1 to 3), as well as the development of a local expertise on esocids breeding (Vezina 1977). In 1950, these actions led to the beginning of stocking, which were adapted to contemporary knowledge in 1985. Muskellunge stocking continued until 1997. During the same period, the species was also introduced, with or without success, in more than 80 Québec water bodies in order to create new opportunities and enhance existing Muskellunge populations (Vézina 1977, Dumont 1991, Vincent and Legendre 1974, Brodeur et al. 2013, de la Fontaine, Y. unpublished). In a few rare cases, Muskellunge introduction has been used in an attempt to control competing species in brook trout lakes. Introducing a top-predator into the food chain obviously had an impact on the fish communities.
Muskellunge farming began in Québec at the Lachine hatchery in 1950. Due to water supply problems, breeding was transferred to the Baldwin Mills hatchery in 1964 (now known as the Baldwin-Coaticook provincial hatchery) (Dumont 1991). Following unsuccessful attempts to breed Muskellunge from several local lakes such as Lake des Deux-Montagnes (Montréal area) and the Gilmour, Donaldson, and Plumbago Lakes (Outaouais) (MPC 1961, Vezina 1977, Crossman and Goodchild 1978), embrocated eggs were imported from the Bemus Point hatchery (New York, USA) and, to a lesser extent, from the Deer Lake hatchery (Ontario, Canada) to start production (Kerr 2001, Dufour and Paulhus 1977, Christopher Wilson and Christopher Legard, personal communication). Muskellunge from both hatcheries originated respectively from the Chautauqua Lake (New York, USA) and from Stony Lake, Buckhorn Lake, and from the Crowe River, these three last water bodies being part of the Kawartha Lakes system in Ontario. According to the information we gathered, it appears that all the lakes used by these hatcheries have also been stocked with an unknown Muskellunge source to support their respective fishery (Christopher Wilson and Christopher Legard, personal communication). Both of these hatcheries, as well as the one of Lachine, are no longer in operation.
From 1965 to 1986, Joseph Lake (Centre-du-Québec, Québec) was used as a broodstock source to supply the Baldwin Mills hatchery (Dumont 1991). Subsequently, from 1986 to 1997, Lake Tremblant (Laurentides, Québec) was used as the source population. Muskellunge was originally introduced in both lakes from the American or Ontarian sources (see Figure 1 – simplified stocking history in Québec). The results of the genetic study confirmed that the American source was the most likely for both lakes.
Stocking, carried out over several decades in the Montréal area, has been effective in improving the stock status and maintaining the Muskellunge sport fishery. In fact, an analysis of Muskellunge recruitment measured from 1962 to 1977 revealed that 55 % of the annual abundance of young Muskellunge could be explained by the number of yearly stocked individuals and the abundance of young Muskellunge stocked the previous year (cannibalism
and/or competition effects) (Dumont 1991). In 1998, the improvement of the Muskellunge population structure, distributed over a long time period, and the presence of natural recruitment justified the end of stocking (Cloutier 1987, Dumont 1991). Since then, no Muskellunge stocking has been done in Québec.
Integrating collaborative science to Muskellunge management
In parallel to the management actions undertaken by the Québec government, a general reflection on fishing practices and a growing interest in the conservation of a high quality fishery focusing on trophy-size specimens emerged, leading to the creation of Muskies Canada (Wachelka 2008a,b,c) and to the beginning of a long collaboration between muskies anglers and the Québec wildlife management authorities. Muskellunge is not vulnerable to capture by the scientific fishing gears used to monitor fish communities in the St. Lawrence River. Monitoring the sport harvest of Muskellunge through angling surveys is therefore an excellent alternative to contribute to its management and to allow evaluation of the effectiveness of the management measures.
To evaluate the status of Muskellunge stocks, a study was conducted in the 1990s in collaboration with the Montréal chapter of Muskies Canada. From 1994 to 1997, five anglers tagged and released 808 Muskellunge, mainly in the Montréal area. The results showed that a few hours of fishing were enough to catch a Muskellunge, whereas in the 1970s, an experienced angler needed approximately 100 hours of fishing to catch a single specimen. After three years of survey, 88 tagged fish were recaptured by anglers, which corresponded to a recapture rate of 11 %, considered relatively low and indicative of a total Muskellunge abundance of several thousands of specimens (Pierre Dumont, personal communication) The gradual increase in the extent of the Muskellunge size structure suggested by the fishing surveys and the presence of a natural production of young Muskellunge justified the cessation of stocking in 1998 (Dumont 1991).
To update the data on the Muskellunge fishery in the St. Lawrence River (from Lake Saint-François to Lake Saint-Pierre) and in Lake des Deux-Montagnes, a second survey was conducted from 2010 to 2013, more than a decade after stocking ended. This second study was conducted with the invaluable collaboration of three professional anglers recognized in Québec, Mr. Marc Thorpe, Mr. Mike Lazarus and Mr. Michael Phillips. A total of 2 569 Muskellunge were captured, of which 2 162 were tagged by three volunteer anglers. Of these tagged fish, 108 were recaptured. The order of magnitude of recapture rates was low in all studied sectors (3.7 % to 4.8 %). Compared to the study carried out in the Montréal area from 1994 to 1997, the recapture rate reported from 2010 to 2013 was twice lower (4.8 % compared to 11 %). Since the recapture rate is generally inversely proportional to the total abundance of a population, this result suggests that the abundance of Muskellunge in the Montréal area has increased since the stocking ended, at least for medium to high size fish, targeted by anglers.
According to archived data from 1918 to 1927, 19 % of Muskellunge caught in Lake Saint-Louis exceeded the legal minimum size of 44 inches (Figure 2). In 1973, this proportion was of 16 % and then increased to almost 50 % in the late 1990s and to 54 % during the 2010-2013 period. This improvement over several decades can be explained by stocking, combined with the enforcement of a minimum legal size of 38 inches in 1986, which has been increased to 44 inches in 1998 (Figure 2). Because of the presence of large specimens, the waters of the St. Lawrence River and of Lake des Deux-Montagnes are now identified as sites of great interest for Muskellunge anglers. In the section of the St. Lawrence River between Montréal and Lake Saint-Pierre, the low abundance of young specimens smaller than 35 inches in the Muskellunge sport harvest suggests a lower recruitment, compared to Lake Saint-Louis and Lake des Deux-Montagnes (Figure 3). This result justified the realization of a study conducted by the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) and its numerous partners that aims to identify the essential habitats of the species by using telemetry
(see the article of Brodeur et al. in this issue).
The most recent fishery survey has generated some preliminary knowledge about Muskellunge migration. Thus, between 2010 and 2013, the majority of marked individuals (95 %) recaptured by the sport fishery within six months after tagging or one to two years after, were in the same body of water where they had been tagged. The distances measured between specimens capture and recapture were generally less than a few kilometers, both on a one year scale and between years (72.7 % and 58.1 % of recaptures within 5 km from the tagging location, respectively). This result suggests that, although Muskellunge can travel long distances, particularly during the breeding season, a large proportion of individuals return to specific areas corresponding generally to large vegetation beds favorable to feeding. This result demonstrates the importance of preserving and restoring the submerged aquatic vegetation beds of the St. Lawrence River. However, large-scale movements between the various sectors of the river have been observed between Lake Saint-Pierre and the Montréal-Sorel section, with distances of up to 58 km. This result was recently corroborated by the preliminary results of the telemetry study, which shows that a certain proportion of the Muskellunge tagged at Lake Saint-Pierre migrate upstream during the feeding season (see article by Brodeur et al. in this issue). These observations of large scale movements also corroborate the connectivity existing throughout the St. Lawrence River system revealed by genetic analyses.
To maintain the trophy status of the species, which can maintain and improve the quality of the Muskellunge fishery, a regular review of the stock status and management is required. Since 2010, a study aiming at gathering new knowledge on several aspects of Muskellunge biology has been conducted by the MFFP and its numerous partners. This vast study will contribute to Muskellunge management in Québec. To date, this initiative has led to a retrospective of historical management, reported in this article, to a genetic analysis of Muskellunge populations (see article by Rougemont et al. in this issue), and to a study aiming to identify essential Muskellunge habitats between Montréal and Lake Saint-Pierre. Some anglers report a recent decline in the quality of the Muskellunge fishery in some inland water bodies of Québec, which remains to be measured. Muskellunge studies based on angling surveys have thus been underway for some years in the Maskinongé Lake and the Ottawa River (see Deschesnes in this issue).
We thank the following people for their valuable collaboration. We would like to acknowledge the involvement of the Muskellunge anglers who participated to the 2010-2013 angling survey: Marc Thorpe, Mike Lazarus, and Michael Phillips. Special thanks to Peter Levick (Muskies Canada), Chris Wilson (Aquatic Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), and John Farrell (Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York) who shared with us many information on Muskellunge management. Thanks to Christopher Legard (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) and Christopher Wilson (Fish Culture Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) for sharing the Chautauqua Lake and Deer Lake hatcheries history. Thanks to Steven Kerr (retired biologist, Fisheries Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for his invaluable advice and for sharing his knowledge on the history of Muskellunge management in Québec. Thanks to Shawn Good (Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department) and Jeffrey J. Loukmas (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) for sharing management and stocking history of Champlain Lake. We also thank the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et des pêcheurs, Ressources Aquatiques Québec and Muskies Inc. for their financial support. Funding was also provided by the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec and by the Canada Research Chair in Genomics and Aquatic Resources Conservation.
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Vézina, R. (1977). Les introductions de maskinongé, Esox masquinongy, au Québec et leurs résultats. Dans : Compte rendu du 10e atelier sur les poissons d’eau chaude, p. 129-135. Ministère du Tourisme, de la Chasse et de la Pêche du Québec, Service de l’aménagement de la faune.
Vincent, B. et V. Legendre (1974). Répartition géographique du maskinongé, Esox maskinongy, dans le district des Laurentides. Compilation 1972. District de Montréal, Service de l’aménagement de la faune et Service de la recherche biologique. Ministère du Tourisme, de la Chasse et de la Pêche du Québec, Service de l’aménagement de la faune. Rapport technique.
Wachelka, H. (2008a). Muskies Canada, the first 10 Years. Muskies Canada Release Journal, mai/juin, p. 11.
Wachelka, H. (2008b). Muskies Canada, the Middle Years. Muskies Canada Release Journal, juillet/août, p. 11.
Wachelka, H. (2008c). Muskies Canada, 1999 to Present. Muskies Canada Release Journal, septembre/octobre, p. 8-10.
Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of the Release Journal.
Lac-Frontière is a small municipality of 175 inhabitants located in the Appalachians on the border of Quebec and the state of Maine, just south of Montmagny. The municipality is of course located on the shores of the lake that has the same name. Between 1842 and 1849 the place was known as the English Lake due to the presence of Americans and British who were staying there during the surveying of the Canada-US border. It is in 1919 that the municipality is officially founded; this means that next year will be Lac-Frontière 100th birthday. Back in the days, the BC Howard company erected up to 4 sawmills around the lake. The railroad was used to supply the mills, the population of this small village will reach up to 3000 inhabitants at its highest point. Today there is not much left of this prosperous period except the remains of the railway bridge and many 100-year-old timber logs that lay on the bottom of the lake.
An error in fisheries management
The lake itself is small. Its area is 1.1 km2, but the Great North West Black River which feeds it winds from Talon Lake for more than 20 kilometers. Unlike most water bodies in Quebec, Lake Frontière is not included in the St. Lawrence River watershed but rather in the Saint John River watershed. This geographical feature had important repercussions that had been underestimated by the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing in the 1970s when they determined that Lake Frontière would be one of the sites of their muskellunge stocking program.
Between 1970 and 1979, the Quebec Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing stocked a total of 6250 muskellunge from 7 to 20 cm in the lake. The goal was to offer a species for sport fishing to the population and to reduce the presence of white sucker. They believed that the muskellunge would remain confined to the lake and the river, but after a few years they learned that the muskellunge was way more adventurous.
Today, Lake Frontière muskellunge is found everywhere in the Saint John River watershed. Muskies stocked in Lake Frontière has colonized the waters of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, and because of that we have the Muskies Canada St. John River chapter today. Muskellunge is now caught in East Lake near La Pocatière and Beau Lake in Témiscouata, Qc.
Each year a Muskie Fishing tournament is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD. Although Muskies are considered by the state of Maine to be an invasive species (no size limit or number of capture) and to record a catch at the Fort Kent tournament Muskies has to be killed, the tournament organizers request recommend that muskies under 38″ should be released. In New Brunswick, the Muskies are still considered has an invasive species, but in recent years some progress has been made thanks to the involvement of our members in St. John River.
We know today and probably at that time too that the arrival of a non-native species in an environment can have serious consequences. But after 40 years, we must face the fact that it will be impossible to go back and that we should rather embrace the benefits of this past error.
The lake itself is very shallow. In the middle of the lake there is only 9 feet of water. There are many weed beds all around the lake. At the northeast end of the lake there is a large marshy and very shallow area that is full of wildlife. On a canoe trip in the small pond you can see ducks, herons, bitterns, beavers, muskrats, frogs, and of course furrows in the water of muskies fleeing in front of the boat. On the other hand, some pool in the river are more than 20 feet deep.
I spent the summers of my youth on the shore of Lake Frontière. My parents built a cottage there in 1981. At the time, there were very few cottages around the lake and it was not uncommon to see moose come to cool down in the marshes in the summer. The state of Maine has a phenomenal moose population and the border is less than one kilometer from the lake, so moose often cross it. By the way, every October during moose hunting season, the border becomes like Vimy Ridge in 1917 with watchtowers and hunters on the lookout every 300 meters. Today there are many more cottages around the lake which represents an environmental challenge to avoid the increase of eutrophication of the lake.
Muskies in the lake are well established, but we can say that the better days are behind us. In the 1980s Lake Frontière delivered its largest muskies. It was the growth peak of the stocked muskie, they had abundant food and relatively low fishing pressure. In the 1980s, my father captured two specimens over 40 inches (41″ and 42″).
Catches of 44″ and 47″ have also been reported. At that time, you could fish for perch from the shore and catch an impressive number of yellow perch in good sizes. This is not scientific, but it seems that the quantity and size of yellow perch has greatly decreased since then as has the size of the muskellunge too. Today a big Muskie of Lake Frontière is 35-37 inches. Average catches are between 26 and 30 inches.
Release and regulation
The daily catch limit and possession limit of muskellunge on Lake Frontière is 2 per person. There is no size limit.
At the beginning of my engagement with Muskies Canada, I thought that if the fishermen on Lake Frontière were all practicing catch and release, the quality of the fishery would only improve in the next few years. But since then I’ve learned more about it and I understand that the lake’s muskies population is healthy but has likely reached a ceiling in the balance between the amount of food available and the number of predators competing for this food. If a size limit required anglers to release all catches greater than 32 inches and take a good amount of smaller muskellunge (say, larger than 26 “), perhaps after some years we could hope to capture specimens over 40 ” again. But know that I have no degree in biology and my knowledge of fisheries management are very limited so what I think is worth what it is worth.
However, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks will do nothing to regulate the muskie fishery on Lake Frontière because it would go against the muskellunge management done by the Department of Inland Fisheries. and Wildlife of Maine – Division of Fisheries and Hatcherie. As explained above, since the Lake Frontière watershed is not completely contained in Quebec, they can not control what is happening in Maine or New Brunswick. Quebec neighbours would not take well a regulation that will go against their own regulations.
Fishing the muskellunge on this lake on a good day can be a lot of fun. It is not uncommon to take several muskellunge in one day. This small lake in southeastern Quebec is still being talked about today as the source of the muskie invasion of the Saint John River, but it is also the source of my passion for muskie fishing. It’s my lake. I know all the bays, the depth of each meander of the river and I go back there every summer.
Muskies Canada Sport Fish and Research came into being to introduce conservation measures into the sport of Muskie fishing. For over 40 years there now 700 members from the 13 different Canadian chapters have been supplying the Ministry of Natural Resources with catch-and-release logs to aid in Muskie research. This year the organization has funded three different research projects, including one on Lake St Clair in partnership with Shimano Canada.
I have been invited to write a regular column on conservation issues related to Muskies and their Habitat.So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.
A bit about me first, I work for Ducks Unlimited Canada as the Director of Regional Operations for Eastern Canada.This means I oversee DUC’s conservation work east of Manitoba. So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.I have been a member of Muskies Canada for three years and am yet to catch my first Muskie.I hope the 2018 is my year.
I worked with Peter Levick, then president of Muskies Canada to develop a Memorandum of Understanding between Muskies and DUC in 2015.In this MOU we committed to ongoing collaboration to expand mutual habitat conservation projects that benefit Muskellunge and Waterfowl in eastern Canada.Given our shared focus on habitat this was the quickest MOU that I have ever developed.You will have seen in Chris Nielson’s Presidents message, that we are seeing good examples of working together.
Implications of proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act
One of the powerful tools supporting habitat conservation at scale is Federal or Provincial legislation or policy.These government directions can have significant impacts on habitat and uses of habitat.The federal fisheries act is a critical act that regulates activities related to fisheries and fish habitat.As such, it is an important tool in conservation of habitat.
The fisheries act underwent significant modernization and change in 2012.Some of these changes reduced the extent of fish habitats protected across Canada.The Federal government has introduced new amendments to the act (Bill C-68) that will have a significant impact on fish and fish habitat.Some highlights include:
Before Proposed Amendments
After Proposed Amendments
Not all fish and fish habitat protected; only those related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery protected
Protection of all fish and fish habitat
Uncertainty as to when authorizations are required for development projects
Clarity on which types of projects require authorizations through permitting and codes of practice
Lack of transparency regarding authorization decisions for projects; no requirement to publicly release information on these decisions
Requirement to publicly release information on project decisions through an online registry
No provisions to restore degraded habitat as part of development project reviews
Provisions to consider restoration priorities as part of development project reviews
No tools to quickly implement in-season fisheries restrictions to address unforeseen conservation and management issues
Ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to the management of fisheries and to the conservation of fish
These proposed amendments are important to Muskies Canada for several reasons.First, the changes strengthen the protection of habitat for muskellunge throughout their lives.In addition, the proposed amendments will make is easier to know and understand if future development projects are going to impact muskellunge habitat and how developer will compensate for these impacts.The amendments are more explicit on compensation for destruction of fish habitat.Muskies Canada has the opportunity to guide compensation for loss of muskellunge habitat.
The act is currently moving thru the parliamentary process and the government is considering the proposed amendments.MP and Federal Ministers respond to comments from members of grass roots organizations like Muskies Canada.
So it is time to Take Action.
You can have a positive influence on getting Bill C-68 adopted by sending a letter, email or talking to your MP and/or Dominic LeBlanc the Federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.The message is simple you support the positive changes to increase the protection of fish habitat being proposed in Bill C-68.
The ability of future generations to enjoy species of fish like the muskellunge is based in part, on catch and release fishing today. The quality of the fishery depends on how carefully anglers release their fish. Over the years, a series of generally accepted handling procedures and suggestions have been developed by the catch and release community.
Match the Tackle to the Fish You’re After
Heavy Duty Rods, Reels, Line and Leaders
Why? – minimize fight time and ensure a good release.
7 ‘to 9’(+) rods
Mostly bait caster style reels
Wire or flourocarbon leaders – 100 lb and up
8’ (+) rods
Line Counter reels
100 lb (+) braid
Flourocarbon leaders – minimum 100 lb
Good quality large coated net (Big Kahuna) , Knipex bolt cutters (to cut hooks), long needle nose pliers, Hook out tool, jaw spreaders, gloves, measuring pole, bump board or seamstress measuring tape for getting length and girth measurements, towel
Other tools, split ring pliers, channel lock pliers, vice grips, scissors, hook file
You can tie some type of a lanyard around tools in order not to loose them
Preparing for the Catch
Communicate with your “net man” i.e., I will bring fish to you, net head first, hold the mesh
Have your net, release tools ready i.e., long nose pliers, hook cutters, gloves
Discuss lifting and holding techniques , practice proper release and resuscitation techniques
Keep your landing area ready. Keep the floor of your boat clear of clutter and keep loose hooks and lures in a tackle box, not on the floor or seat. This will help to avoid many potential accidents as well as give you plenty of room to land that trophy fish!
Net the muskie head first into a large coated net
Keep the muskie in the net until you get the hooks removed
Cut hooks if required and remove cut portions from muskie
If you’re taking a picture, get yourself and the boat organized to minimize the time the fish is out of the water.
Never lift a muskie vertically by its jaw. This has the potential of causing severe injury to the fish especially if it’s a big one.
When lifting a muskie for a photo or any other reason, always do so horizontally using your other hand to support it under its belly. Also, never ever hold any fish by its eye sockets. This definitely causes damage to the fish.
Our partner Ducks Unlimited Canada just released a great new resource for learning about invasive species that threaten many of our favourite musky waters. to learn more, make sure to check out the link!
Invasive species are changing the land and water we love. They overwhelm habitat, choking out natural wildlife and vegetation. They spread aggressively and hold their ground stubbornly. Winning the fight against an invasive species takes science, engineering and people committed to on-the-ground hard work.
PETERBOROUGH, Ontario – Canada – For Immediate Release – 2-26-18 — It’s a good day for muskie anglers when natural resource managers from Ontario, Michigan and Ohio all come together to make the fishery better. Combine that with the involvement of volunteers from both Muskies Canada and Muskies, Inc., and now financial support from Shimano’s Canada operations, and targeting these big fish on Lake St. Clair has a positive outlook.
During ‘Muskie Sunday’ events at the just completed Spring Fishing & Boat Show, Canada’s largest outdoor show at The International Center in Mississauga, Ont., Shimano added to the day with a $1,000 donation to support the Lake St. Clair muskellunge tracking project. “We wanted to step up after seeing how the DNR fishery experts in both Michigan and Ohio, and our Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry have teamed up on this project,” said Bob Mahoney with Shimano’s Canada operations. “And we applaud the joint efforts of the Muskies Canada and Muskies, Inc. organizations for their assistance”.
The donation will go to the purchase of additional acoustic radio tags that are implanted in caught-and-released muskies out of Lake St. Clair. The project provides the ability for donors to name a tagged muskie, and follow its travels at any time – similar to shark tagging programs. More than 50 muskies currently swim in Lake St. Clair, where their movements are tracked by using underwater receivers of the Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation System.
The landlocked Brewer Park Pond and former artificial swimming hole have undergone a facelift, a transfusion and a rejuvenation to become a naturally-functioning habitat for all kinds of wildlife in Ottawa and importantly become, once again, a part of the Rideau River itself. Using an ecosystem approach, the partners in this project intend to increase overall biodiversity with the creation of a new, vibrant wetland and pond with shoreline plantings, breeding bird habitat, amphibian habitat, turtle nesting beds and basking logs all connected to the main channel of the nearby Rideau River. The pond will provide improved spawning, nursery, rearing and feeding habitat for the local fish community in the Rideau all year round. This area will be particularly important for Muskie spawning. The on-site work took place in November and December, 2014.
The project accomplishes two important goals for local residents:
– Rejuvenation of the pond with increased fish and wildlife habitat
– Maintenance of current park uses after construction, including complete walking trail around the pond.
We are pleased to confirm that both objectives will be achieved thanks to the goodwill and understanding of all the project partners including MINTO, Richcraft, the City of Ottawa, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Muskies Canada, the Institute of Environmental Science at Carleton University and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
Muskies Canada Ottawa Chapter has been a partner in this project throughout the long planning approvals process over most of the last 2 decades. Hedrik Wachelka has been tireless in his work to help move this project forward. The Ottawa Chapter, with assistance from the Hugh C. Becker Foundation has partnered with Carleton University to tag and monitor 40 Esocidae (20 Pike and 20 Muskies) to follow their movements before and after the completion of this new feature.
There will be an opportunity to volunteer for a shoreline planting day May 9, 2015 around the perimeter of the pond. Capital Ward Councilor David Chernushenko said, “Residents of Capital Ward work very hard to maintain and improve our local environment, and like to seize special opportunities such as this. Tree plantings, river shore protection, clean up initiatives and promoting active outdoor life styles by our residents are all close to our hearts and this project fits us well. Thanks to all parties for bringing this progressive project to Brewer Park!”
For more information: Jennifer Lamoureux, Aquatic & Fish Habitat Biologist Rideau Valley Conservation Authority 613-692-3571 ext. 1108 firstname.lastname@example.org
In October 2014, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA) constructed a fish habitat embayment at the Richmond conservation Area, located in Ottawa, Ontario. This project was done in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Shell Fueling Change, Muskies Canada Ottawa Chaper, National Defence Fish and Game Club, Community Foundation of Ottawa, Fendock and the Ottawa Flyfishers Society.
The project involved converting an existing grassed park area into a small wetland embayment along the shoreline of the Jock River. Raab Construction Ltd. was retained to help construct the new wetland and work couldn’t have been completed without the help of a group of dedicated volunteers.
A Spring Community tree planing day is planned for May 16th to complete the project.
For more information, contact:
Jennifer Lamoureux, Aquatic & Fish Habitat Biologist
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
613-692-3571 ext. 1108