For the first time in over 60 years, natural lake trout reproduction has been documented in Lake Erie. The recent discovery is the result of an acoustic telemetry study conducted by DEC staff and partners which identified potential lake trout spawning areas in eastern Lake Erie. On May 14, 2021, DEC’s Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit staff collected multiple, recently hatched fry in fry traps on a rock reef about five miles west of Barcelona Harbor in Chautauqua County. In July, Dr. Chris Wilson at Trent University positively identified the fry as lake trout through genetic bar-coding.
Overfishing, habitat degradation, and sea lamprey predation were the key contributors to the population collapse of lake trout in Lake Erie by 1965, and rehabilitation efforts to restore the species began in the early 1980s. While this finding is just the first step, it validates that these fish are capable of successfully reproducing and surviving to hatch and that restoring a wild lake trout population in Lake Erie is attainable.
Lake Erie contains some of the largest lake trout available to anglers in New York. New York State’s state record lake trout (41 pounds, 8 ounces) was caught in Lake Erie in 2003. Fish exceeding 10 pounds are common and lunkers over 20 pounds are caught every year.
DEC will continue to work to evaluate spawning habitats to identify the potential for habitat restoration.