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DEC fisheries technician David Gordon unsnarls fish from gill nets designed to catch a representative cross-section of the river's fishery. Photo: David Sommerstein.
DEC fisheries technician David Gordon unsnarls fish from gill nets designed to catch a representative cross-section of the river's fishery. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Netting a snapshot of the St. Lawrence River fishery

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Every year since 1976, state environmental technicians have set nets across the St. Lawrence River to see what fish they catch. The result is a sort of snapshot of the river's fishery.

David Sommerstein bumped into the Department of Environmental Conservation crew last month at Coles Creek marina. They were prying big and little fish from nets and tossing them into buckets for testing. Roger Klint is an aquatic biologist with the Department of Environmental Conservation and leads the DEC's annual index of fish populations in the St. Lawrence River.

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The DEC uses the data from the gill net index as a sort of annual snapshot of the St. Lawrence River's fish populations. Photo: David Sommerstein.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Roger Klint: Hi, my name’s Roger Klint, Aquatic Biologist for the New York DEC.

We are currently at the Coles Creek State Park boat launch, and we are gill netting. We’re using experimental gill nets, which have different size meshes. So we can collect fish of any reasonable size in the St. Lawrence River.

That was a smallmouth bass, that fish was probably five pounds plus. Recently they had the big bass tournament here, and people were amazed at the size of the fish, but this is no secret. These fish have been around for quite a while.

We set 32 nets over the course of three days. Which is not a lot, but these nets are 200 feet long. They really sample a very small cross section of the river at any given place. The intent is not to get an actual number of fish in the river, but it’s to track – just sort of index, and look for trends on how the species are doing.

One of the things that’s happened – well, several things that have happened – been the invasive species that have really changed the character of the river. Zebra mussels, quagga mussels have cleaned it up. So you have better visibility, which makes weed growth patterns different.

Round gobies, when they came in, created a whole new food source for everything. Everything eats gobies.  If it can go in their mouth, they’ll eat it. So what we’ve seen is growth rates on these fish have increased, they grow faster - maybe bigger, some of them. But it’s, it’s also changed the way people have to fish, because these fish aren’t hungry. They have all the food they want. So some of the people who stick to the old ways of fishing for certain species have had to adapt. If they don’t adapt they don’t do well. It’s changing, everything is always changing out here, so.

And that’s a walleye. That fish is probably about 7, 8 pounds.

David Sommerstein: Those are huge fish!

RK: Yessir.

DS: They would’ve been keepers, huh?

RK: Absolutely. 

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