The first post-pandemic smelt fry fundraiser was a big hit on Sunday afternoon, as well as a chance for patrons to have an update on the walleye rehabilitation program on the lake. 

“People are very interested in the walleye program,” said Don Bishop of the Golden Lake Property Owners Association (GLPOA) fish committee. “We have people volunteering in the fish program when they hear about it. They can see a glimmer of hope and the science behind this.”

The smelt in Golden Lake have been a big problem, voraciously eating the young of other fish – notably walleye – and reaching tremendously high numbers. He said some counts are as high as four million in the lake. As a result, a group of volunteers have been harvesting the smelt during the freshet season and then frying them up as a tasty treat and fundraiser. They estimate they have removed about 800,000 smelt from the lake through the years with this harvesting. 

“But unfortunately, we are not making a dent,” Mr. Bishop said.

The good news is there are some predators out there eating the smelt besides the folks at the fish fry. He pointed out pickerel which were caught had their bellies full of smelt. 

This year the volunteers were out again in the spring and the smelt were cleaned and frozen, ready for the early June fundraiser. The volunteers caught about 40,000. 

“There are also people who come from Toronto to get smelt,” he said. “A lot of people like them.”

Smelt, which are considered an invasive species here, grow to about six inches long. There are also people who fish for smelt, he noted. 

The event on Sunday was held at the Cottage Cup and Mr. Bishop gave them credit for working with the committee on a day they are normally closed to put on this event. With a three-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic when most activities came to a standstill, the fundraiser was back this year and people responded. While they had planned for 200 meals, they served 140, which was a good start bringing the event back, he said. 

“It was a rebuilding year to get things back,” he said. “And the interest in walleye rehabilitation has given us a new group of volunteers.”

The fish committee of the GLPOA, co-chaired by Mr. Bishop and Dr. Peter Heinermann, has a walleye re-stocking plan and a proposal has been submitted to the government. According to that document, up until the late 1970s, Golden Lake was one of the premier walleye lakes in Eastern Ontario. However, the walleye population declined significantly throughout the 1990s. 

The proposal is to feed summer fingerling walleye in enclosures within Golden Lake until they reach a size which cannot be consumed by rainbow smelt. The enclosures could be floating cages, raceways or a remote nursery pond. 

“We are planning to put two smaller cages in the water this year if we can get the stock,” he said. 

While the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has nine and a half hatcheries (one is jointly owned), there is a long waiting list for walleye, he explained. 

“John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP) has been wonderful and has made contacts with the MNRF and we have someone who is helping us through the ropes,” he said. 

Because of this, there are hopes they will be able to start the program this year with cages of young walleye in the lake to protect them until they reach a size the smelt will no longer be able to prey on them, he said.

As well, there has been a great deal of interest from the council of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation in cooperating on this program, he said. Working with the First Nation it might be possible to have another type of program, perhaps with a hatchery on land where the water temperature and conditions can be regulated better, he said. 

“There are four other First Nations who are doing this,” he added. 

The cost of such a program would be between $80,000 to $110,000, but there are grant programs available, he said. 

As far as the cages are concerned, they would be placed in a quieter part of the lake, away from the heavily traveled boating areas. 

“They are eight feet by eight feet and 12 feet deep,” he said. 

The cages will stick out of the lake about one foot, so they will be visible to boaters, he added. 

Following on the successful fish fry on Sunday, there are also hopes to have a bigger smelt fry than ever next year and maybe look at a fish fry festival in conjunction with a fish tournament. There is a lot of volunteer enthusiasm, Mr. Bishop added. 

“We have been able to put together a team to get the lake back,” he said.

By Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 07, 2023 at 09:24

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated