How are the populations of Lake
Champlain's sport fish changing?

Greater numbers of larger and healthier sport fish have been caught in recent years on Lake Champlain, compared to the 1980s and ’90s, and there has been a reduction in the frequency of sea lamprey wounds. Atlantic salmon runs in Lake Champlain tributaries continue to increase each year. Weigh-ins at bass tournaments for several years have demonstrated a strong and healthy bass fishery in the Lake.

young angler on Lake Champlain dock

Anglers of all ages are enjoying a thriving sport fishery on Lake Champlain. Photo: LCBP

Lake Champlain is home to over 80 species of fish and is known particularly for its salmonid, bass, and walleye fisheries. Fishing tournaments on Lake Champlain have increased in number and popularity, ranging from local fishing club tournaments and derbies to professional fishing competitions. Anglers visiting Lake Champlain come from all over the country to participate in these competitions and to enjoy fishing on the Lake. Although solid ice coverage across the Lake is now less frequent than in previous decades, winter weather always brings ice to the bays and near-shore areas that are more protected from the wind, providing good ice fishing.

Non-native fish species in Lake Champlain have increased in number over the last decade, and include alewife, tench, white perch and rudd, as well as some of the more popular introduced species such as rainbow and brown trout. Some of these species (alewife in particular) are problematic, outcompeting native forage fish that have traditionally comprised the diet of fishes higher up the food chain, including our most popular sport fishes. As trout and salmon start to rely more on alewife as a food source, they ingest greater quantities of the enzyme thiaminase, which has been shown in other lakes to cause a thiamine deficiency in eggs and fry, known as Early Mortality Syndrome. Since the arrival of alewife in Lake Champlain, salmonid eggs from the Lake that are used for rearing hatchery fish are checked annually for possible thiamine deficiency and are treated with a thiamine supplement.

Several species of fish continue to be stocked regularly into Lake Champlain, including lake trout and Atlantic salmon. This fish cultivation and stocking program is especially important because natural lake trout and Atlantic salmon do not currently have enough reproductive success to sustain their Lake Champlain populations. Researchers are investigating causes of poor survival of young salmonids, and are monitoring movement of these species throughout the Lake to better inform restoration efforts.

Cormorants on Lake Champlain
Double-crested cormorants are a colonial native water bird species considered by many to be a nuisance on Lake Champlain. Their population was heavily depleted nationwide in the mid-1900s by DDT and habitat loss, but has bounced back in recent decades as a result of the expansion of the catfish farming industry in the southeastern United States and federal regulations enacted in 1972 to protect migratory species.

Public perception of the cormorant population is that it is too high in Lake Champlain and other regions, despite a lack of scientific research demonstrating significant aquatic ecosystem impacts. Many anglers on Lake Champlain are concerned that cormorants are depleting the yellow perch population, although there have not been any studies documenting these effects. However, the cormorant population on Lake Champlain has caused extensive defoliation on several islands where they breed, which has reduced the nesting habitat for other birds like the common tern, black-crowned night heron, cattle egret, great egret, snowy egret, and great blue heron.

Cormorant populations have been managed by the state fish and wildlife agencies and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for many years, in collaboration with non-government organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Audubon. Control efforts on Lake Champlain have historically consisted of shooting and hazing adults, and oiling eggs to reduce breeding success. A Lake Champlain colonial nesting bird management plan is being developed to help guide management of cormorants on Lake Champlain.

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