Efforts underway to restore Lake Champlain “muskie” population

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(Host) Efforts are under way to restore Lake Champlain’s population of muskellunge – a fish commonly known as muskies.

Wildlife biologists with the Department of Fish and Wildlife released 250 of the young muskies into the Missisquoi River delta last week.

The rare fish were once native to most of Lake Champlain. For unknown reasons, their numbers declined in the nineteenth century. The last remaining native muskies were wiped out in a chemical spill in the 1970s.

Anglers do still occasionally catch non-native muskies. Wildlife officials put plans on hold to restore the muskies in Vermont until it was determined that none of the native strain survived. Fisheries biologist Shawn Good says his department collected samples of recently caught fish to study the genetics:

(Good) "The eight muskie we were able to collect and send out for analysis matched only either the fish stocked by New York in the Chazy River or the fish we stocked in Otter Creek in the 80’s. So that was an indication to us that there really is nothing after a significant amount of effort on our part trying to collect fish, we were unable to collect anything that would have been a native Vermont or Lake Champlain muskie strain."

(Host) The department decided to stock fish donated by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Good says even young muskies are predators, and there are very few fish that eat them:

(Good) "When we released them into the Mississiquoi they shot right off into the weeds, you could see them poking around and milling about in the weedy, shallow areas that we released them. They were doing really well, so I expected big things from these fish."

(Host) Muskies are prized sport fish. As members of the pike family they can grow to be quite large. The largest muskie caught in Vermont weighed over 38-pounds.

Wildlife officials will stock more fish for the next four years. Starting in January 2009 anglers will have to release any of the muskies they catch, in order to give the population a chance to become self-sustaining.

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