Sign up for Pure Waters communications
and receive LAKEWATCH and other news
right to your email!
Fishermen and women enjoy the natural beauty of the lakes and rivers they haunt, and the peacefulness and solitude of the sport. But what really gets us out there is catching fish. “The tug is the drug” is a T-shirt slogan that captures the reason we’re out there in all kinds of weather. Experienced Seneca Lake anglers have noted that many fish populations have dropped precipitously in recent years. This has been especially true of the warm water species (northern pike, bass, perch and other panfish), but we’ve also seen a reduction in catch rate of the cold water/trout species.
I live on the lake and fish it throughout the year for a number of species. I’m a fairly casual fisherman, though the thoughts contained here are influenced by reports from some more serious fishermen. First a quick summary of changes noted in fishing success will be provided, followed by a discussion of potential factors for the changes seen. Brad Hammers, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC), Region 8, Fisheries Biologist, was kind enough to provide input on this article. Where Brad’s view differs from mine, or provides additional information, I’ve included his response in italics.
With no personal experience, I’ve heard many reports from winters’ past of fishing weed bed edges for large catches of big northern pike. When I moved full time to the lake in 2010, I would see and catch some northerns during winter perch fishing. In recent years, that fish has become rare in my area of the lake. (Brad- A 2014-15 fish community survey found a fair number of northern pike throughout the lake, and we have reports of good pike fishing in the last couple of years).
The bass fishing that was once excellent has degraded significantly, though there are some signs of a recent rebounding. (Brad- The ‘14-15 survey found a moderate number of smallmouth bass. Uncertain now, but had planned a bass survey for this spring, along with other fish surveys, to compare Seneca to other NY waters).
Fishing for large perch in large numbers was common in Seneca Lake, recognized as strong as its famous lake trout fishing. The last few years have seen a dramatic decline of perch anglers, who have now largely moved to other lakes to pursue this quarry. Experienced perch anglers are still getting some fish, but it’s a much tougher game to find a school and catch a few fish these days. Very disturbing to me is an apparent lack of small fish . (Brad- The ’14-15 survey found large numbers of perch. Hearing from anglers that perch are there but are more finicky.)
Lake trout fishermen report reduced catches and smaller fish, whether pulling copper, running down riggers, or jigging. The trout derby has seen fewer fish of smaller sizes in recent years. (Brad- Stocking levels were reduced due to increased natural recruitment in the mid 2000’s. Recent surveys indicate decreased natural recruitment. Less stocking, lower recruitment, and increased sea lamprey population likely causes of lower adult lake trout numbers. DEC is now increasing stocking levels.)
Smelt fishing (net dipping) was once a spring-time ritual across the Finger Lakes. Now that fish seems to be gone from these water bodies. (Brad- Smelt likely at an undetectable level.)
There have been many changes to the lake ecosystem that are likely contributing to these observations of our fish populations and fishing success. Discussions with experienced fishermen and inputs from biologists have been distilled down to some observed changes with potential impact to the fishery. One overriding theme is the large impact of invasive species.
It’s curious to me how similar and yet different this lake is from our nearest neighbors, Keuka and Cayuga Lakes. While they suffer from most of the same invasive species, the response in their fisheries seems quite different.
Many thanks to Todd Cook for initiating the thread of emails that prompted this article. The view that invasive species are a major factor in the changes we see in the Seneca Lake fishery seems to be well founded. The lake will change and adapt to these and other impacts, while anglers will continue to search out their quarry. To help assess the lake fishery and biology as it changes, and to support actions to improve it, Seneca Pure Waters intends to pursue a more active partnership with the fisheries area of NYS DEC Region 8.
Read the article HERE.
2020 WENY NEWS, CHRISTINA EPISCOPO - 1/15/2020
Read the Article
Click to read the article on Finger Lakes Daily News
According to the USGS website: "Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) are increasingly a global concern because CyanoHABs pose a threat to human and aquatic ecosystem health and cause economic damages. Despite advances in scientific understanding of cyanobacteria and associated compounds, many unanswered questions remain about occurrence, environmental triggers for toxicity, and the ability to predict the timing, duration, and toxicity of CyanoHABs. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are leading a diverse range of studies to address CyanoHAB issues in water bodies throughout the United States, using a combination of traditional methods and emerging technologies, and in collaboration with numerous partners. By providing practical applications of cutting edge CyanoHAB research, USGS studies have advanced scientific understanding, enabling the development of approaches to help protect ecological and human health."
Visit the Current Conditions page of this website to access a link to the real time data provided by the USGS Advanced Monitoring Platform/Buoy.
By Hobart and William Smith Colleges on April 26th, 2019
Villages, towns and cities around Seneca Lake now have a fulltime advocate for the management of their water supply’s health and longevity.
As the Seneca Watershed Steward, Ian Smith will be coordinating regional efforts to preserve Seneca Lake as a clean source of water. Hired in early 2019, Smith reports to the executive committee of the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (SWIO), the regional body covering the 40 municipalities in five counties that span the Seneca Lake watershed. Smith is based at Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Finger Lakes Institute (FLI), under the supervision of FLI Director Lisa Cleckner.
“People use the lake for recreation and drinking water, so first and foremost we want to protect what’s already functioning and highly valuable,” says Smith, who hopes “to take the framework of on-the-ground projects to get ahead of the game” on issues like invasive species, nutrient loading and algal blooms.
As watershed steward, Smith is tasked with developing expertise in Seneca Lake’s watershed challenges and providing guidance to steer the programming and actions of SWIO. Under this umbrella, his mandate includes updating and maintaining watershed quality data and water quality improvement projects; helping implement a Nine-Element Watershed Plan for the Seneca Lake watershed; organizing and executing programs to support SWIO plans; improving public understanding of Seneca watershed issues; and cultivating funding options for such initiatives.
Smith’s position is supported through state funds earmarked for the Town of Geneva as part of a wider $110 million effort to preserve New York drinking water at its sources through lake and watershed conservation, including protection against pollution and invasive species.
State Senator Pam Helming, who represents Geneva and helped secure that funding, notes that “the Finger Lakes as a whole, and specifically Seneca Lake, have experienced significant amounts of harmful algal blooms and toxic blue-green algae in recent years. These contaminants threaten municipal water systems and homeowners that use Seneca Lake as their main source of water. This Seneca Lake Watershed Steward will combat this by bringing together the Town of Geneva, other communities, and stakeholders along Seneca Lake to address water quality challenges through a coordinated, collaborative effort. I am grateful that we were able to secure the critically important funding for this position in last year’s state budget, and I look forward to working with the incoming watershed manager. Working together as a community, we can safeguard our lakes and enhance them for generations to come.”
“We tired to get funding for two years and then Senator Helming, knowing that we needed a watershed steward for Seneca Lake, was able to get it and make this a reality,” says Geneva Town Supervisor Mark Venuti, a member of the SWIO executive board. “We had more than 30 people apply for the job. Ian was our first choice, and we’re looking forward to working with him and helping SWIO make a significant impact for the betterment of the lake and region.”
Smith, who has worked on water quality issues in West Virginia coal country, Maryland Mennonite communities and the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, will coordinate among the SWIO, individual Finger Lakes municipal groups, area farmers and organizations like the Finger Lakes Land Trust and Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association. The key, he says, is “building bridges so people can figure out what everyone is doing. We have all these different groups heavily invested and doing good work, so now amplifying its impact through communication and coordination is the next step; that will ultimately get us to the watershed scale improvements we are looking for.”
Under memorandum of understanding, members of the SWIO are working toward the protection and improvement of Seneca Lake’s water and surrounding bodies and tributaries. (The Seneca Lake watershed includes all of Keuka Lake’s watershed.) The SWIO includes an appointed member from each municipality who participate in meetings and report plans and actions to their local government. Ex officio membership extends to regional planning board members, county Soil and Water Conservation District members, academic institutions including Hobart and William Smith Colleges and local water quality interest groups.
The SWIO meets next on Tuesday, April 30 at 7 p.m. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the County Auditorium of the Yates County Building, 417 Liberty Street, Penn Yan.
The Chronicle Express - Penn Yan, NY
Over the past five years, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, in collaboration with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, has been diligently working to develop and implement a cyanobacteria bloom identification and notification process for Seneca Lake. Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae or harmful algal blooms (HABs), are found worldwide especially in calm, nutrient-rich waters. Unfortunately, some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that may negatively affect the health of animals and humans thus requiring a public notification or alert system.
Last summer, over 100 volunteers monitored 55 miles of Seneca Lake’s shoreline and submitted weekly reports of their observations. Blooms began to appear in mid-August and continued to be present through the end of September with 36 of the 39 cyanobacteria blooms identified producing high levels of microcystin. Cyanobacteria blooms are a growing problem as indicated by the chart below.
This year, in an effort to get a more complete picture of where blooms appear on the lake, organizers hope to monitor all 75+ miles of Seneca Lake’s shoreline. More than 90 percent of last year’s volunteers have agreed to participate in the shoreline monitoring program this year. However, additional volunteers to help observe the entire shoreline are still needed.
Anyone interested in helping out and who can:
‒ Attend a 2-hour training session at the Finger Lakes Institute in Geneva.
‒ Document conditions using a digital camera or smart phone.
‒ Observe the same segment of shoreline from Aug. 5 - Oct. 8.
‒ Submit a weekly observation report.
To learn more about this program visit https://senecalake.org/ and click on “Shoreline Monitoring Volunteers Needed” to complete a form.
By Jeff Murray
With two weeks to go until opening day of trout fishing in New York, the icy waters of Catharine Creek are teeming with spawning rainbows.
A team from the state Department of Environmental Conservation conducted its annual "shocking" of the legendary Seneca Lake tributary Monday, starting in Montour Falls before working their way south toward Millport.
Early each spring, rainbow trout that grow big in the nutrient-rich environment of Seneca Lake swim upstream into Catharine Creek and other tributaries to lay thousands of eggs that will become the next generation of potential trophy fish.
That mass migration also attracts an army of anglers hoping to hook a giant rainbow before it performs its biological imperative and heads back to the lake.
Most of the female trout sampled Monday were "hard," meaning they hadn't laid their eggs yet.
That indicates the fish are probably right in the middle of the spawning run, said DEC regional fish biologist Brad Hammers.
"The females are just swimming up the creek. We aren't seeing many males yet," Hammers said. "We've had reports from people there were fish in the creek two weeks ago. There should still be fish in the creek (opening day). If it gets warm, they will spawn and head back."
There are too many variables to predict how fishing will go opening day, but there should definitely still be some decent trout in the stream, Hammers said.
Many of the trout netted Monday also had the round scars left by parasitic lamprey eels.
The DEC conducted a lamprey eradication program last year and plans to treat the creek with lampricide again in two years, Hammers said.
Trout fishing opens April 1 on most waters. The promise of a giant rainbow draws anglers from hundreds of miles away to the banks of Catharine Creek each year.
For more information on trout fishing, go to dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html.
Environmental Monitor: A FONDRIEST publication
by Karla Lant on March 8, 2019
The most voluminous of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, rests at the heart of the local wine industry. Historically the lake has been a cool, clear body of water, but in recent times harmful algal blooms (HABs) have marred its crisp surface. Dan Corbett, vice president of water quality for the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, spoke to EM about what’s being done about HABs in the lake.
“I got engaged in the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association in 2014 as a volunteer for our stream sampling program, and I have been more and more engaged over time,” explains Mr. Corbett. “I have responsibility for our water quality monitoring efforts. We have a pretty significant program that I can describe, and water quality improvement projects which we’re trying to kick off and define our organizational role for, to address some of the issues that we observe with our monitoring.”
HABs are not just a problem for Seneca Lake. All of the Finger Lakes have had problems with HABs throughout the summer, mostly in September, over the past few years.
“Even the cleanest lakes that are clearly oligotrophic in their measurements have had some very severe harmful algae blooms, and high toxin levels that have found their way into some of the water supply systems for municipalities, so it’s certainly raised a concern here,” details Mr. Corbett. “It’s certainly a large concern, and it gets people motivated to take action, either personally or politically, so that can be a positive longer-term benefit as you try to turn things around.”
There are monitoring efforts at some level taking place across the Finger Lakes, and policymakers are working to address these issues through improved watershed management plans that are more aggressive than they have been in the past.
“I can speak to the fact that an awful lot of work has gone into the Seneca Lake Watershed Management Plan,” Mr. Corbett describes. “The most recent editing of that plan took place in 2012, and it’s a tremendous document that contains extensive knowledge about watershed land uses, sources of contamination, along with extensive background information. It has become clear to everyone involved that we need some more focused actions and clearer priorities if we are to address some of the current issues—specifically the harmful algae bloom issues that we’re seeing.”
The management plan for Seneca Lake is shaped by the standardized formats promulgated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“Completing approved plans in this fashion gives you higher marks as you seek funding for significant improvement projects,” states Mr. Corbett. The format that we’ve begun to focus on is called a Nine Element Plan, which is an EPA standard format. We’ve been in discussion with the consulting engineering group that has done this type of work for other watersheds that would play a key role in leading the effort and driving some of the more technical aspects of the plan.”
Corbett and the team believe that watershed modeling that can mathematically define pollutant loads is what has been missing from the plan before now. Along with large amounts of monitoring data, modeling can answer more questions.
“We have a pretty significant tributary monitoring program,” adds Mr. Corbett. “We currently monitor six of the tributaries in the Seneca Lake watershed. Three of those are very significant in their flow into the lake and make up the largest portion of the total fall into the lake.”
The other three tributaries are also interesting to the team, in that each offers a unique set of insights into the watershed. One is in a largely agricultural area with no urban regions and no wastewater treatment plant on it, so it provides a view of the agriculture impact. Another flows through the old Seneca Lake army munitions area. The last flows through a more forested watershed area, revealing what a more pristine area stream looks like.
The organization has 70 to 80 people involved in the stream monitoring program around the lake. Since its inception in 2014, the program has grown each year.
“A couple years ago we began to get very focused on our harmful algal bloom monitoring,” comments Mr. Corbett. “This year we had 102 volunteers that each monitored a piece of shoreline throughout July, August, September, and early October. It’s all organized and set up on a map with each area of responsibility defined. Once a week, over the weekend, volunteers would go out and look for blooms. They’re all trained on what they look like, and on how to take samples and get them into the lab for testing. The results of that have been the discovery of many algae blooms in Seneca Lake, particularly in that September timeframe.”
An additional benefit of the monitoring program is awareness—of the program itself, but also the problem that HABs present in the region.
“So many people are out there looking, and because they’re trained and their awareness is heightened, they’re also talking to their neighbors as they’re walking or paddling the shoreline,” remarks Mr. Corbett. “There’s a lot of communication about the issue and the potential causes of these issues, so it brings an overall awareness for the lake, a heightening of that awareness. That’s a real positive.”
Of course, this much discussion of harmful algal blooms always brings up the same issues.
“That leads to the obvious question: it’s nice that you’re monitoring, but what are you doing to fix the problem?” explains Mr. Corbett. “That leads into the management plan, its definition of prioritized actions, the obtaining of funds, and the inter-municipal organizations that can help drive improvements at the municipal level. Requirements for septic system inspections and the building of new properties that meet certain standards can drive wastewater treatment plant improvements and the development of agricultural best practices.”
Of course, the fact that HABs remain in the area is a frustration—to Corbett and many others.
“There’s a lot of angst about why we aren’t doing more, and I think as a lake association we struggle a little bit with what role we can take in driving some of these soil conservation actions that largely occur at a county or district level—for example, highway departments that do ditching around the lake and municipalities that put in place rules and some governance of some of these practices,” Mr. Corbett describes. “We try to be an advocate for change and work in partnership with those organizations, including at the state level, which is exactly what initiated the upgrade of this watershed management plan, but still there’s a lot of people who want to move faster as they see the effects of the problems that we have.”
The swelling number of volunteers in this program and others like it speaks to the growing concern among everyday people about the health of the water they drink and otherwise use.
“I’m only speaking for myself, but I think there are a lot of questions out there, especially when some of our cleanest lakes experience significant blooms,” comments Mr. Corbett. “We can drive towards cleaner water, and I think it will help some, but I don’t know that it will reduce the frequency of these harmful algae blooms.”
At the state level, the DEC has established a new subgroup called the Finger Lakes Water Hub (FLWH), a group of four or five people dedicated to improving Finger Lakes water quality. FLWH works with lake associations and others to develop improved data on these water bodies, and helps drive and develop improved watershed management plans.
“The Finger Lakes water hub has initiated a lake monitoring program called CSLAP, which stands for Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, in each of the Finger Lakes,” details Mr. Corbett. “On Seneca Lake, we have four mid-lake locations where our volunteers take samples near the surface and at about 60 feet deep. They also make observations of water clarity and other parameters, and they do this every two weeks throughout the summer for eight sessions, total. They do some actual lab work in the kitchen, and then they send the samples off to the lab for analysis.”
Overall, the stream and lake monitoring programs have been very positive, allowing the team to generate water quality information that they can compare to historical data to get a sense of how the lake’s water quality is changing.
“Over the past 10 or 20 years, Seneca Lake has clearly moved from an oligotrophic to a mesotrophic state,” remarks Mr. Corbett. “There are some big gaps in time, but we know where we are and where we used to be. I think the state is throwing some significant resources at this problem, which is very helpful, and I think adds to the call to action that harmful algal blooms have created. It gives us a lot more press and support for the work we’re trying to do.”
P.O. Box 247
Geneva, NY 14456