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Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries Highlights

 

The Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries conducts annual surveys throughout the state to address a variety of recreational and resource management needs, including response to emerging fisheries issues. These surveys are conducted to satisfy a wide variety of projects, from searching the smallest streams for wild Brook Trout to electrofishing surveys at large lakes to assess populations of fish such as Largemouth Bass, Muskellunge and Walleye.

Most surveys are used to monitor populations, classify streams, assess stocking programs, map the distribution of rare native fishes, provide data for potential management or regulatory changes, and to document or control populations of invasive fishes/aquatic plants.

Bureau Highlights 2018

The Division of Fish and Wildlife's Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries (BFF) is responsible for the management of New Jersey's freshwater fisheries resources. BFF activities include many facets, including fish culture and managing wild and stocked fish populations, protecting and enhancing their habitats, and educating the public. Trout anglers enjoy more than 600,000 Rainbow Trout, stocked annually from the Pequest Trout Hatchery into public waters. 3.8 million (26,946 lbs.) warm and coolwater fishes were raised and distributed by the Division operated Charles O. Hayford Hatchery to supplement angling opportunities throughout the state. These programs are the result of an integrated management and culture program to the benefit of Garden State anglers.

This report serves to account and convey the diversity and importance of the Bureau's Research and Management activities that occurred in 2018.

Field Sampling Locations Map
Field Sampling Locations Map
Click to enlarge

The BFF conducted a total of 242 fisheries surveys, at 176 waterbodies, to address a variety of recreational and resource management needs, including response to emerging fisheries issues. A total of 87 rivers and streams and 89 ponds and lakes were surveyed. Fisheries biologists captured, identified, and counted over 50,000 fish, representing 73 species. Surveys provide up-to-date data, so that the state's freshwater fisheries resources can be properly managed. These surveys were used to monitor populations, assess stocking programs, document both rare native fishes and emerging invasive species, among a variety of other functions. This work is made possible by funding from the Sport Fish Restoration Federal Grant F-48-R and New Jersey's Hunter and Angler Fund, which enables the Division of Fish and Wildlife to continue "Managing Your Fish and Wildlife since 1892".

Juvenile shad, Millstone River
Juvenile shad, Millstone River
Click to enlarge
In many ways, 2018 was "the year of restoration." The state's fish and wildlife populations continue to benefit from the cooperative efforts of various conservation groups, state, and federal agencies. The removal of the Millstone River's Weston Mill Dam (Somerset Co.) resulted in the first documentation of juvenile American Shad upstream of this impediment (DEP News Release) in 173 years! In fact, this noteworthy occurrence followed the first unimpeded adult spawning migration.

This was made possible by a Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement agreement reached between the Trustees for Natural Resources - the NJDEP, the U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - and the party potentially responsible for contamination related to the American Cyanamid Superfund site in Bridgewater Township.

On a similar project, but of even greater magnitude, significant progress was made to restore connectivity to NJ's third largest tributary to the Delaware River, the Paulins Kill, when the Columbia Lake Dam (Warren) was breeched on August 3, 2018.
Full dam removal and fish passage weir structures are on schedule to be completed in early spring 2019. There is little doubt that migratory fish species, such as American Shad and possibly Blueback Herring, will return to the Paulins Kill. These fish were last seen in the late 1700s. This was made possible by a multi-faceted partnership led by The Nature Conservancy.
Former Columbia Lake Dam site
Site of Columbia Lake Dam
Click to enlarge

The second year of an exciting Brook Trout Restoration Project continued on Rinehart Brook, a tributary to the Black River within Hacklebarney State Park (Morris Co.). In addition to increasing Brook Trout numbers, multiple objectives of this study were achieved, including the determination that multiple depletion electrofishing seems to be an efficient technique to remove Brown Trout and a realization that a series of natural waterfalls would not be sufficient to prevent Brown Trout recolonization.

During the initial removal, Brown Trout greatly outnumbered Brook Trout by a margin of 725 to 58. This was repeated during the fall of 2017, until the 7th pass, when only 9 Brown Trout (all yount-of-the-year) and 60 Brook Trout were encountered (87.0% Brook Trout). Following the removal of non-native Brown Trout during year one, the Brook Trout population doubled in year two. Removals resumed in 2018 and continued until October 4, 2018, in which no Brown Trout were encountered. This project will continue in 2019, with intentions to enhance the existing natural waterfalls, thus preventing Brown Trout recolonization. Knowledge gained during this pilot project will help further Brook Trout restoration efforts in New Jersey.

Biologist with two largemouth bass
Lake Musconetcong Largemouths
Click to enlarge
New Jersey has over 400 impoundments open to the public for fishing and thousands more in private ownership, scattered throughout the state. These lentic environments offer excellent fishing opportunities for a variety of species such as bass, sunfish, crappie, and pickerel. These species naturally reproduce and often do not require active stocking to sustain their populations. The Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries conducts electrofishing surveys on lakes and ponds to assess the status of popular game species, primarily Largemouth Bass.

A tremendous effort was invested in conducting a total of 57 surveys at 42 locations in 2018. Carnegie Lake had the highest density Largemouth Bass, as measured by a Catch Per Unit Effort of 115 bass/hr. during electrofishing. The most impressive Largemouth Bass encountered this year was from Parvin Lake, weighing 6.75 lb. This lunker was followed closely by one from Union Lake that weighed 6.72 lb, and another from Parvin Lake that weighed 6.69 lb. Largemouth Bass exceeding six pounds were also captured at Alloway Lake, Salem Canal, and Sunset Lake.

In 2018 there was a concerted effort to evaluate the status of fisheries in small ponds throughout the state. These data are used to inform waterbody-specific management approaches. Seining is an effective sampling method used to assess the status of warmwater fish reproduction, which helps determine if stocking is necessary or if past stocking was successful. Seines provide a means to sample fish populations in waters that are not easily accessible or conducive to standard electrofishing methods, such as waters with extremely low conductivity, or those without trailer access. The data gathered from seining surveys are also beneficial in documenting the presence of rare native species, as well as invasive species, that can often be missed when sampling with other gear types. A total of 63 lakes and ponds were seined in 2018 during the months of June through early-October.

With support of New Jersey's wild trout anglers, the state's new Wild Trout Stream Regulations went into effect on February 10, 2018. The goals were to determine if the recreational fishing opportunities afforded by this regulation were appropriate and if the conservation needs of wild trout were adequately addressed. This process was initiated in 2014 with 94 electrofishing surveys being conducted on 57 streams over a two-year period to obtain fish population data. The Division sought public feedback via numerous venues including public meetings and participation in ten Trout Unlimited Chapter meetings.

The centerpiece of these new wild trout fishing regulations is the conservation of wild Brook Trout, a species that has significantly declined in our state, due to impacts from urbanization, and the building of dams and roadways, and competition from non-native trout species. A Brook Trout Conservation Zone was established for northwestern New Jersey, in which they must be immediately released unharmed. Within the Wild Trout Stream regulation, three designations highlight a variety of wild trout fishing opportunities available and better align individual streams with management strategies specific to the wild trout species present. For more information on these regulations, please see the Freshwater Fishing Digest.

Conservation of wild Brook Trout continues to be a Bureau priority. The term "Brook Trout Assessment" is used to identify surveys conducted specifically to evaluate Brook Trout populations. 34 surveys were conducted under this umbrella in 2018. Data from these surveys are used to determine Brook Trout presence in catchments and small tributaries that lack survey data, identify the effect of impediments on the occurrence and distribution of Brook Trout and non-native trout species, and to assess the potential for Brook Trout restorations efforts, such as their re-introduction into suitable habitat or the removal of competitors such as Brown Trout.

Data from 77 other statewide stream surveys in 2018 were also valuable in assessing Brook Trout status and distribution. A total of 58 surveys, in 44 streams documented wild Brook Trout, of which, eight previously undocumented populations were found. These data significantly contribute to the range-wide understanding of Brook Trout, an effort guided by the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV), a unique partnership initiated in 2004 under the National Fish Habitat Initiative.

Wild Brook Trout
Wild Brook Trout
Click to enlarge

Temperature Monitoring Locations
Temperature Monitoring Locations
Click to enlarge
In a related project, BFF has expanded the use of continuous temperature data loggers in the stream temperature monitoring program to better understand the relationship between water temperature and trout. This program was significantly expanded in 2018 and sites were selected based on three distinct fisheries management objectives.

The first relates to the holdover potential in popular trout stocked waters.
The second aims to identify critical temperature thresholds in Trout Production streams.
Finally, the project identifies waters that pose the greatest chance of withstanding impacts of climate change based on differing groundwater contributions. In total, temperature was continuously monitored at 72 stream sites.

These data will enable the Bureau to evaluate long term trends, determine if ambient water quality is consistent with DEP's Surface Water Quality Standards, identify streams that may be good candidates for Brook Trout restoration, and address a multitude of other fisheries management goals.

The relationship between fish and their environment is no better addressed then by means of the classification of streams based upon their suitability for trout. Standardized stream electrofishing surveys contribute valuable data used for the classification of New Jersey's surface waters within the Department's Surface Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9B. This system is the regulatory cornerstone that helps protect critical watersheds. Data from 61 standardized electrofishing surveys completed in 2018 resulted in recommended upgrades from Trout Maintenance to Trout Production for two stream segments: Pequest River (trib.)(Buttzville) and Wanaque River (trib.)(N. of Post Brook) and five more surveys supported previously recommended upgrades. Data from 33 stream segments confirmed existing classifications.

The Flat Brook is considered one of New Jersey's most popular trout streams, and BFF biologists were surprised by the consistent low numbers of trout found in numerous electrofishing surveys conducted over the last decade. Temperature monitoring indicated sufficient temperatures to support trout. Catch and Release regulations, instituted in 2016 ruled out angling harvest.

To better understand where the high numbers of stocked trout were going, 40 Rainbow Trout from the Pequest Trout Hatchery were surgically implanted with radio telemetry transmitters in 2017 and again in 2018. The Bureau partnered with Montclair State University and their School of Conservation for the 2018 portion of this study. Results are consistent both years which indicate high predation rates (avian and terrestrial) are causing the low numbers of available trout.

Trout with implanted transmitter
Trout with implanted transmitter
Click to enlarge
In addition to these highlights, this report describes a host of other field work and educational activities conducted by the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries. The efforts of full-time Bureau personnel are complemented by a dedicated and talented seasonal staff, who provide incredible insight, enthusiasm, and the labor vital to raise fish, conduct fisheries surveys statewide, and perform countless tasks that help maintain and enhance New Jersey's freshwater fisheries resources. The Bureau's work is made possible by both the dedicated monies of the Hunter and Anglers Fund and the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

The above information is available in PDF format:
Management Highlights for 2018 (pdf, 115kb)

ANNUAL RESEARCH AND MANAGEMENT REPORTS

Annual Report - Research and Management 2018 (pdf, 5.4mb)
  Appendices (pdf, 3.3mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2017 (pdf, 5.0mb)
  Appendices (pdf, 2.1mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2016 (pdf, 6.3mb)
  Appendices (pdf, 2.4mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2015 (pdf, 3.5mb)
  Appendices A-H (pdf, 3.3mb)
  Appendix I: Union Lake Fisheries Management Plan (pdf, 935kb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2014 (pdf, 1.8mb)
   Appendices (pdf, 2.6mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2013 (pdf, 2.0mb)
   Appendices (pdf, 1.9mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2012 (pdf, 3.1mb)

Annual Report - Research and Management 2011 (pdf, 2.2mb)

Back to Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries

Furnace Lake Muskellunge
Furnace Lake Muskellunge
Click to enlarge

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Last Updated: March 21, 2019