Lake Elsinore Fish Survey nets its goal

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Aquatic scientist Kate Buckley of Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions helps with fish netting from the shore at Lake Elsinore during one of several fish survey studies at the lake in an effort to improve water and fish habitat quality for fishing and recreation. Shane Gibson photo

The morning dawned hot and sticky Tuesday, Sept. 24, when a slew of volunteers and scientists clad in T-shirts and hip waders along the Lake Elsinore shoreline. Their goal? To catch, measure, tag and release fish in the city’s namesake lake all in the name of conservation.

The Lake Elsinore Fish Survey, consisting of three fish-capturing events, was designed to help Lake Elsinore and San Jacinto Watersheds Authority identify both short and long-term projects improve water quality in the sometimes-troubled lake. The surveys, the first Sept. 4, a second Sept. 24, and a third with a date yet to be determined, are helping researchers to update information on the aquatic communities within Lake Elsinore. All of which will be used to develop a list of recommendations to improve the lake’s fisheries and habitat to support a healthier Lake Elsinore.

“The city urged our partners through LESJWA to take a close look at our fishery because we saw that after the rains in 2017 and then the most recent rains saw an increase in carp population in the lake,” Lake Elsinore assistant city manager Nicole Dailey said. “What we are currently doing with the netting and releasing of fish gives us a much clearer look at what our fish population looks like so we can identify what projects we need to implement a better balance in our fishery and overall improve the health of our lake.”

Because they are detrimental to a lake’s water quaility, more than 1 million pounds of carp were removed from the lake in the late 2000s as part of LESJWA’s 2005 comprehensive fishery management plan. The removal proved successful by reducing the frequency and size of fish die-offs in the lake. Since carp stir up nutrients and sediments from the lake bottom, which encourages algae blooms when the rains came and the fish population for that particular species surged, both LESJWA and the city knew a new study to determine the fish populations and a new plan to rebalance the fishery was needed.

“The carp will dominate the fishery very quickly and very easily in the lake,” Dailey said. “LESJWA did remove over 1,000 pounds of carp back in 2008, I believe, but since then no carp removal has been done and as a result, the carp population is increasing. It is critical for us to take a look at those populations with these fish surveys.”

According to Dailey, the scientists and volunteers have been netting and releasing the fish to give the city and LESJWA a clearer look at what the fish population looks like.

“This way, we can identify what projects we need to implement a better balance in our fishery and overall improve the health of our lake,” Dailey said.

Scientists from Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions along with volunteers netted, captured, measured, tagged and released fish Tuesday, Sept. 24, as the next step in LESJWA’s Fishery Management Plan, building on the water management agency’s efforts over the past two decades to invest in the future of Lake Elsinore as a premier fishing and water recreation destination. While the results from the survey won’t be out for several months, the group did find something never found in the lake before the current survey.

“They did find a new minnow in the survey,” Dailey said, adding that like carp, the minnow is an invasive species. “They found silverside minnow, which is a very small fish, but they had not been documented in our surveys previously.”

According to a news release issued by LESJWA, historically, efforts to develop a healthy, viable fish community in Lake Elsinore have been hampered by inadequate habitat and water quality conditions for fish and zooplankton reproduction and survival, limited fish food resources; and multiple detrimental effects caused by abundant common carp and shad.

“It is important to pay attention to our fishery because these types of species can put the lake out of balance,” she said. “We also want to do our due diligence to make sure we are stocking properly and implementing projects that keep the fishery healthy.

Results and suggestions based on the survey should be available sometime in 2020, Dailey said.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.