Lake George – The Lake George Waterkeeper and the Lake George Fishing Alliance are asking for help in the monitoring of the annual smelt spawning migration in the streams of Lake George. Participating volunteers are being asked to visit the mouth of a designated stream during the two-week spawning migration as often as possible and fill out a data sheet that will be provided by Lake George Waterkeeper. At the end of the spawning period, the field data sheets will be collected and data will be used to create a report, which will be available to the public.
“Smelt are a very important part of the Lake George food chain. Many larger fish species such as lake trout and land locked salmon have come to rely on smelt,” said Corrina Parnapy, Contract Biologist for the Lake George Waterkeeper.
“This is truly one of the most spectacular events to watch in the watershed and an indicator that spring is finally coming,” said Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper. “There is an obvious connection between the smelt runs and stream health and the smelt study was an opportunity to expand the ecological component of the Lake George Waterkeeper’s Stream Assessment Project.”
Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) are a slender fish with an average length of 7-8 inches, a long pointed head, protruding lower jaw, deeply forked tail, and a small adipose fin. They are silver with a conspicuous streak running lengthwise along each side. Rainbow smelt are anadromous and live in saltwater, but enter freshwater streams to spawn. However landlocked populations have been established in freshwater environments throughout the United States, including Lake George. Smelt were likely introduced into Lake George as a forage item for larger game fish like the lake trout. It is unclear when rainbow smelt were introduced into Lake George, but recorded stockings date back to 1918 when nearly 3 million smelt were released and in 1921 when 5 million smelt were released. Smelt have become an important component of the fishery as a fish food resource, among other things.
In Lake George, smelt spawn shortly after ice-out when water temperatures approach 7°C or 45ºF and continues for a couple of weeks into mid-April when thousands of smelt swim into its tributaries. During spawning the adult fish will generally move into the stream in the evening and return to the lake the next morning. Typically, females are accompanied by several males when they migrate into streams to spawn. In the stream, females hover just above the streambed and move their bodies slowly from side to side releasing small groups of eggs. A single female can produce thousands of eggs in one spawning season. The eggs are deposited on the streambed, which are demersal, adhesive, and are 1.0mm to 1.2mm in size. After the female releases her eggs the males fertilize them. Smelt runs have been recorded in numerous streams in the Lake George watershed.
“By conducting this survey it is hoped that a better understanding of the smelt population trends and stability will be reached. Understanding the factors that may influence and alter the spawning migration of smelt, a prey species, will help to better understand the Lake George fishery as a whole” said Navitsky.
However, previous concern over the rainbow smelt population resulted in a ban on the collection or possession of smelt in the Lake George watershed in the late 1980s by the NYSDEC. The NYSDEC continues to be concerned about the stability of the smelt population in Lake George in the face of abundant predator fish populations and variable spawning success of smelt. Regardless of the importance of rainbow smelt to the Lake George fishery and the concern over the stability of the smelt population, little data has been collected on these fish in Lake George aside from anecdotal observations (NYSDEC unpublished data).
The Waterkeeper has issued reports for the past two years on the annual spawning migration focusing on 16 streams on the west side of Lake George that were easy to access. In 2010, all 16 streams were found to have smelt present, with 5 have the most abundant runs, West Brook, English Brook, Finkle Brook, Indian Brook and Hague Brook. Smelt eggs were discovered in 15 of the 16 streams monitored.
“There has been much speculation over the years on the status of the smelt population and the intensity of their annual migration” said Navitsky. “The Waterkeeper took the initiative to formalize a process and gather some data in attempt to document this important component of the Lake George fisheries. This should be able to help answer some questions about the stability of the smelt population and including a data gathering component may also provide some insight if any changes occur in the future.”
If you are interested, please contact Chris Navitsky, Lake George Waterkeeper at (518) 668-5913 X301 or email@example.com or Contract Biologist/LGFA member Corrina Parnapy at (518) 668-9881 or firstname.lastname@example.org. When you contact us, we will record the stream you would like to monitor and your contact information so that we can send you the appropriate material and notify you when the smelt run begins. We look forward to hearing from you!
NYSDEC Ban on Collection or Possession of Rainbow Smelt in Lake George
The collection or possession of rainbow smelt in the Lake George watershed is prohibited by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who continue to be concerned about the stability of smelt populations in Lake George in the face of abundant predator fish populations and variable spawning success.