New strategic plan for Lake Champlain adopted

07/29/09 7:34AM By Ross Sneyd
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) For the first time in 30 years, a new strategic plan for managing fish populations in Lake Champlain has been adopted.

As VPR's Ross Sneyd reports, biologists have tried to figure out how to protect all 88 species of fish that call the lake home.

(Sneyd) A strategic plan for Lake Champlain fisheries was last drafted and adopted in 1977.

The federal government and the states of Vermont and New York were primarily interested at that time in restoring lake trout and Atlantic salmon in the lake.

They haven't been able to get some of those species back. Atlantic salmon haven't naturally reproduced in the lake for decades and so now the species exists only because of stocking by fish hatcheries.

Dave Tilton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the agencies broadened their approach this time.

(Tilton) "So these guiding principles call on us to manage the lake as a whole ecosystem, as opposed to just managing individual components of it. They call on us to manage it for sustainability to try to maintain and enhance natural reproduction and to preserve native species and try to avoid exotic species."

(Sneyd) Tilton admits it's a tall order.

But science has come to better understand just how interconnected different species are and how they can be profoundly affected by human actions.

So the strategic plan tries to balance the competing interests of sport fisheries with environmental protection.

Tilton says the report sets goals for different zones in the lake.

(Tilton) "So our goals for the tributary zone include increasing returns of Atlantic salmon from the lake into those tributaries so that they might be able to spawn, they might be the source of a recreational and so forth. But our goals for those tributary zones also relate to lake sturgeon and increasing returns of lake sturgeon and reproduction in lake sturgeon."

(Sneyd) Both species need to get upstream in the rivers and streams that flow into Lake Champlain. So the plan suggests such things as fish passages around dams or even enlarging the size of culverts that prevent fish migration.

Goals are set in the plan for stabilizing populations of threatened or endangered species, such as the sturgeon, eastern sand darter, and northern and American brook lamprey.

All of the goals in the plan are intended to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its counterparts in Vermont and New York as they set regulations affecting the lake.

Tilton says the biggest challenge for the scientists and the biggest threat to the fish and aquatic life in Champlain are invasive species.

(Tilton) "So the invasion by alewife into the lake has caused dramatic changes to the ecosystem. The various parasites that find their way into the lake can cause a major problem. The potential invasion by this species called the spiny water flea would just cause major problems into Lake Champlain."

(Sneyd) Figuring out how to control invasive species that are already in the lake and keep others out is a challenge that scientists are still trying to master.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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lake_champlain u.s._fish_and_wildlife dave_tilton health
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