Channel catfish population in jeopardy

PFBC area fisheries manager Rob Wnuk shows off the net used to capture channel catfish at Lackawanna Lake on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN WOODRUFF

BY KEVIN WOODRUFF

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission channel catfish stocking program at Lackawanna State Park may on the verge of extinction.

That’s because a netting survey conducted by the PFBC last week netting just one 23-inch mature channel cat, despite the agency stocking more than 3,000 fingerlings into the lake on a yearly basis.

Bill Smoyer, a PFBC employee from the Pleasant Mount Hatchery, shows off a channel catfish at Lackawanna State Park on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN WOODRUFF

According to the PFBC’s fish management plan, they would need to catch catfish at a rate of .018 fish per hour, a goal they did not meet.

On Wednesday, the PFBC held a program at the park to discuss the results of the survey after pulling five large nets out of the water.

According to area fisheries manager for the Northeast Region Rob Wnuk, the stocking program at Lackawanna Lake was started in the mid-1980s to try and introduce a trophy fish element into the lake.

“They don’t naturally reproduce in this lake,” Wnuk said.

PFBC employees Aaron Fry, left, and Bill Smoyer, pull a net from Lackawanna Lake on Wednesday during the channel catfish survey. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN WOODRUFF

The nets that were cast into the lake were put at five different locations along the shore at different water depths.

Each net had a 100 foot lead that starts at the shore line and are about 25 yards long each.

The nets, which are baited with a mixture of cheese, molasses and soy, are left in the water for approximately 24 hours before being pulled.

According to Bill Smoyer, who works out of the fish hatchery in Pleasant Mount, Wayne County, each net weighs about 400 pounds when being pulled from the water.

The PFBC officials use a flat-bottom boat with a 20-horsepower motor to get out into the water where it takes two men to pull the net.

On Wednesday, Smoyer and fish biologist Aaron Fry pulled the nets from Lackawanna Lake.

Wnuk said that given the weather conditions on Tuesday, a day before the PFBC pulled the nets, he wasn’t going to eliminate the stocking program based on the results.

“A strong cold front with a lot of rain came in,” Wnuk said. “And that more than likely made the fish inactive. It was not ideal conditions for the survey.”

However, Wnuk said when the agency surveys the lake next year if there are still poor results the program would likely be terminated.

Wnuk blames the poor channel catfish population in the lake on a healthy largemouth bass population.

“There are so many big bass,” Wnuk said. “It makes it difficult to stock small fish because they become food.”

Smoyer said that of the 3,000 two-inch fingerlings stocked into the lake each year, very few survive.

“If about 10 percent of the fish survive we consider that a success,” Smoyer said.

According to Wnuk, each year the PFBC has conducted the survey, the population has been right around .018 fish per hour.

“It’s been really close each year,” Wnuk said. “They’ve been either just over, or just under the guideline.”

According to Wnuk, the best way to increase the channel catfish population in Lackawanna Lake is to put larger channel cats in when they stock.

“They would have the best chance of survival at about eight inches,” Wnuk said. “But the problem is, the agency doesn’t have the money or staff to raise them.”

If the agency could stock channel cats at a larger size, then the mature adults would likely begin to spawn at the lake.

According to Smoyer, the PFBC has been experimenting with artificial spawning habitats that could be submerged into a body of water to give the catfish a safe place to lay their eggs.

Wnuk was disappointed with the number of channel cats on Wednesday, given the success of previous surveys.

“Well, it’s not the result we wanted,” Wnuk said.

However, one good indicator came from the survey.

While there weren’t nearly enough cats in the net, Wnuk said he saw signs of the black crappie population in the lake making resurgence.

“The panfish population in this lake is excellent,” Wnuk said. “White crappies have always grown well in this lake, but we’ve had problems with black crappie.”

Bob Kessler, of Clarks Summit, an avid fisherman, was on hand Wednesday to see the program.

“I think it’s beneficial to all the anglers,” Kessler said. “If the program is working I’d like to see them continue it. Any stocking they do is good for anglers.”

The PFBC is scheduled to stock channel cats into Lackawanna League in October. Depending on how this batch of cats does, it could be the last the lake sees.