SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) manages the St. Lawrence River muskellunge studies as ESF was contracted by DEC to do so beginning in 1987. Since that time, over 80 musky spawning and nursery areas have been identified, and those sites have been granted additional levels of protection from habitat alteration.
Despite that protection, muskellunge populations have declined, and the identified causes are habitat changes (vegetative and fish communities on nursery grounds), the presence of round gobies in spawning/nursery habitats, and Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia virus (VHSv) mortality. The VHSv outbreaks in 2005 and 2006 saw massive die-offs of pre-spawn female muskellunge.
In assessing muskellunge population trends, the Annual Report states, “Spring trap-net surveys at index sites sampled each year indicated declining spawning adult abundance since 2008, with marginally improved catches in 2013 and 2014. Catches of young-of-the-year muskellunge in index seine hauls also declined since 2004, but improved lightly in 2013 and 2014.
“An angler diary program, which indicates the relative quality of muskie fishing through angler catches, also indicated that angling success remains well below the target of one fish caught per 10 hours of fishing.”