Written by Industry Expert Vic DiCenzo, PhD, Fisheries Biologist
Lakes and ponds contribute substantially to society by providing recreational opportunities, water supply, flood control and power generation. These multiple purposes often challenge lake managers, as different stakeholders have different goals and expectations. Successful management of fisheries resources requires a thorough understanding of fish populations, fish habitat and the users of those waterbodies.
Lake Monticello is a 352-acre recreational lake in central Virginia that was impounded in the late 1960s. This private community is home to approximately 13,000 residents who desire that Lake Monticello has a healthy and sustainable fishery. An initial fisheries assessment of the water quality, habitat and fish populations was conducted in 2014 to determine the current status of the fishery.
An adaptive management process was used at Lake Monticello, which began with stakeholders clarifying their goals. Then, using the data from 2014, fisheries biologists developed and implemented strategies over the next three years. A follow-up assessment of the fish population was conducted in 2017 using electrofishing along with age and growth analysis. This assessment allowed managers and stakeholders to evaluate the efficacy of the work that had been done and develop new strategies. Five strategies were critical in achieving the goal of a healthy and sustainable fishery.
1. Communication with stakeholders was vital to develop and reach the goals for the fishery.
2. Lake Monticello lacked the proper aquatic habitat to sustain a healthy fishery, and the installation of artificial fish cover greatly improved the habitat complexity. Electrofishing results in 2017 detected more Largemouth Bass in the newly-added fish cover than at areas without cover. The creation of habitat also benefits anglers as it can concentrate Largemouth Bass and improve catch rates.
3. Lake Monticello lacked aquatic vegetation, which provides habitat for aquatic insects, snails and freshwater shrimp — which in turn supply food for fish and waterfowl. Aquatic plants are also a vital part of the complex system of chemical cycling in a lake, and can influence oxygen supply in the water. Pickerelweed was planted in shallow areas to help improve the lake’s habitat and provide nursery areas for juvenile fish.
4. Bluegill are typically the most important food source for Largemouth Bass, but their low abundance was having a negative effect on the fishery. To enhance the Bluegill population, adult Bluegill (> 5 inches) were stocked. Three fish feeders were also installed to support Bluegill growth and health.
5. Despite liberal harvest regulations, most Largemouth Bass anglers practice catch-and-release, which leads to over-abundant populations and slower growth rates. At Lake Monticello, the creel restriction was changed to a 15-inch maximum length limit (fish < 15 inches can be harvested; fish > 15 inches must be released) to encourage harvest of the abundant and younger fish and thus improve growth rates. Since 2014, the proportion of Largemouth Bass that are > 15 inches has more than doubled and fish weights have improved significantly.
The adaptive management approach employed at Lake Monticello was key to improvements seen during the past several years. Stakeholder values informed the goals of the fishery and the technical strategies employed to meet those goals were developed by trained fisheries management professionals. The recent fishery assessment shows that five ongoing strategies improved the fishery. For Lake Monticello to maintain the goal of a healthy and sustainable fishery, continued improvements to Largemouth Bass and Bluegill populations are necessary as well as continuing to enhance fish habitat. Open communication between stakeholders and fisheries managers must also be maintained.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
Vic DiCenzo, PhD, is a member of the fisheries team at SOLitude with more than two decades of industry experience. As a Fisheries Biologist, Vic designs and implements studies to collect fisheries data from lakes and ponds, and makes recommendations to clients for the long-term management of their aquatic resources. He has published numerous research articles and presented research results across the country.SOLitude Lake Management is committed to providing full service lake and pond management solutions that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Our services include lake, pond, wetland, and fisheries management programs, algae and aquatic weed control, mechanical harvesting, hydro-raking, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, water quality testing and restoration, bathymetry, lake vegetation studies, biological assessments, habitat assessments, invasive species management and nuisance wildlife management. Services, consulting and aquatic products are available to clients nationwide, including homeowners associations, multi-family and apartment communities, golf courses, commercial developments, ranches, private landowners, reservoirs, recreational and public lakes, municipalities, parks, and state and federal agencies. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.