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DEC to Try to Reestablish Sauger Fish in NY

Are there any Sauger left in Lake Champlain?
The sauger prefers murky water

Last month, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a draft conservation management plan that is aimed at reestablishing the sauger in New York's waterways.

The sauger, a North American member of the true perch family, Percidae, and closely resembling walleye in appearance, may be extinct in New York State.

The last documented sauger captured in New York was in 2010, when an accidental sampling of walleye in Lake Champlain netted a seven year old female sauger.

Before that there was no documented evidence of a sauger caught or seen in 13 years.

The last sauger documented before that was in 1990 when a fisherman caught one in the lower Niagara River.

At one time, the sauger inhabited the rivers and tributaries of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Oswego River, the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain watersheds.

The last sauger found in the upper St. Lawrence River was 1933.

In Lake Erie, sauger were once numerous enough to support a commercial fishery in the early 20th century. The population declined in the 1950’s and are now extirpated in Lake Erie.

Sauger were relatively common in Lake Champlain up to the mid-1980’s and the lake is seen as New York's best hope among waterways.

The sauger's historical range extended throughout Canada, the Mississippi River basin, throughout the Ohio River, and the Tennessee River as far south as Alabama and in southern, central, and western U.S . Today it is suffering a decline in population and a reduction in its range.

The great challenge for the Sauger is that many of their spawning destinations have been cut off. The sauger, more than its relatives, require long, unobstructed and varied stretches of murky, flowing waters, and natural temperatures to spawn.

Saugers prefer rivers, low channel slope, low stream velocity, and deep water whereas walleyes prefer lakes.

Saugers sometimes breed with walleyes.

The Sauger, at an average of 12 inches but growing up to 30 inches, travel as much as 300-400 miles to find spawning habitats downstream and then return home. They thrive in slow-moving, murky rivers, large shallow lakes, quiet backwaters over sand, mud, or bedrock, usually at tributary mouths and in deeper tailwaters over rock and rubble.

Because of dams and manmade canal systems, altered river systems, narrowed flood plains, and unnatural flow patterns, the historic routes of their ancient spawning routes have been cut off or altered. High death rates occur during spawning that are related to degraded and fragmented river systems.

Low water levels in periods of drought are detrimental to sauger populations because it strands eggs during spawning and prevents larval sauger from reaching their downstream locations. Mortality rates in autumn are related to exploitation by fisherman.

Sauger spawn in May and June. Saugers lay up to 50,000 eggs. Females mature at three years and males at five years and live up to 12 years.

Upon birth, larval saugers drift downstream before developing feeding tendencies and maneuverability. Juvenile saugers tend to develop in diversion canals and backwaters until autumn when they migrate upstream to their wintering habitat.

Sauger like to eat invertebrates and small fish, especially catfish, mayfly larvae, drum, shad, and shiners.

Pollution levels of the late 19th and much of the 20th centuries also led to their depletion.

Another reason saugers may have dwindled is the introduction of zebra mussels. Zebra mussels, an invasive species, clear up the water, and sauger thrive in muddier water.

The Ottawa River, Ontario, Lake Saint Pierre - Saint Lawrence River, and Richelieu River, Quebec and the Allegheny River, Pennsylvania, are the closest locations to New York where suagers are still known to exist and may, with the DEC plan, make a reentry into the state.

DEC's plan calls for establishing a self-sustaining sauger population in the upper Allegheny River watershed, determining the status of the fish and potential remedies in Lake Champlain and examining whether the eastern reaches of Lake Erie would be suitable places to restore the sauger population.

"Sauger are a fascinating species uniquely adapted to thrive in large turbid rivers and lakes," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. "They once were prominent in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain, but have declined to the point where they are now one of New York’s most imperiled fish species. This plan will start the process of restoring sauger to its native range in New York waters."

The draft conservation management plan is available on the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/92788.html.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

SEP 10, 2013