It's a historic day on Lake Erie. The lake trout are coming back.

A wild lake trout fry was discovered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit, a historic indicator in the restoration of a population that was once plentiful but collapsed due to overfishing, habitat degradation, and invasive species.

Credit - NYS DEC
Credit - NYS DEC

"Today marks a key milestone in the restoration of lake trout in Lake Erie after six decades of significant investments to improve water quality and habitat and promote sound fisheries management," DEC Commissioner Seggos said. "This phenomenal Great Lakes story of recovery is a testament to the perseverance of the researchers and biologists from DEC and partner agencies who worked tirelessly to help restore this fishery."

Lake trout were once the top predator in Lake Erie with records of fish measuring over 50 inches and weighing 75 pounds. Commercial fishing for lake trout in Lake Erie began in the late-1700s.  The population had significantly declined in the late 1800s. By the 1930s, the commercial fishery had all but ceased, and lake trout were considered erased from Lake Erie by 1965.

Annual stocking to restore lake trout began in 1982. Adult lake trout stocks have improved to a level where natural recruitment could be detected. "Although the number of wild lake trout fry collected was small, the discovery of evidence that lake trout are spawning and their eggs are surviving and successfully hatching is historic," said Beggos. "Following decades of research, this finding validates restoring wild lake trout populations is attainable."

Some of the largest lake trout can be found in Lake Erie. The largest on record is 41 pounds, 8 ounces, which was caught in 2003.

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