| Aug 17, 2006


Feature Article - August 17, 2006

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Feature Article - August 17, 2006

Walleye populations in the Kingston area:a message for conservation

by Kevin Esseltine

Walleye (yellow pickerel) are the most sought-after sport fish in Ontario , providing numerous recreational and socio-economic benefits. In southern Ontario , walleye inhabit roughly 417 lakes about 10% of the province’s walleye resources. Managing walleye in southern Ontario presents significant challenges due to many factors, including: the number of anglers in the area; intense fishing pressure; high harvest rates; habitat loss (due to lake shore development and land use practices); impacts from invasive species; climate change; and the complexities of the various fish communities in the area.

Amalgamation

In recent years both angler observations and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) fisheries assessments indicate a decline in both the number and size of walleye in southern Ontario, which raises serious management concerns. In response, MNR initiated a province-wide walleye review.

To assess walleye populations, MNR uses a standardized provincial assessment protocol called Fall Walleye Index Netting (FWIN). A total of 129 FWIN assessments have been conducted on the 417 walleye lakes across southern Ontario since 2001. Using standardized FWIN assessments, the walleye populations across the region can be compared, and individual lakes can be monitored through time. FWIN surveys provide fisheries biologists with information that allows them to evaluate the status of walleye populations in a sub-set of lakes and apply those findings to a larger area (i.e. the Kingston Area). From the FWIN surveys, biologists can assess the status of a walleye population in an area, and compare the result to provincial and/or regional benchmarks.

The 129 FWIN assessments conducted in southern Ontario found that walleye populations displayed low abundance, increased growth rates, and an absence of larger female walleye relative to northern Ontario . The population characteristics listed above, with the exception of the growth rates, are associated with stressed or unhealthy walleye fisheries. The faster rate of growth is related to the milder climate in southern Ontario which leads to a longer growing season for walleye.

In the Kingston area, walleye population information was collected from 10 lakes (Beaver, Big Clear, Bobs, Buck, Bull, Consecon, Horseshoe, Kennebec , Sharbot, and Wolfe) using FWIN assessments. The overall results from these FWIN surveys and other key biological factors indicate the following:

Walleye populations are only slightly above the southern Ontario average with the exception of Wolfe Lake .

Other walleye population indices (mortality, maturity, and growth) are similar to the southern Ontario benchmarks indicating stressed or unhealthy populations relative to northern regions in Ontario .

Sustaining walleye populations in the Kingston area will require a number of stewardship and management activities to conserve this valuable fisheries resource. Although this is not a complete list, stewardship and management actions should at least include: increased stewardship to rehabilitate and conserve walleye spawning habitats, and encourage better land use practices; promoting catch-and-release; and the selective harvest of walleye. Also a portion of harvest effort should focus on alternate fish species (i.e. crappies).

It is important to understand that the majority of walleye populations in the Kinston area and throughout southern Ontario are stressed due to many factors. Educating anglers and resources users on the status of walleye fisheries, and actions they can take to help the fishery is an important next step. This will promote the sustainable use of the resource and lead to healthier walleye populations throughout southern Ontario .

Editor’s Note: Kevin Esseltine is a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources. (613) 531-5719; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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