Team Surveys Aquatic Species of Lake Runnemede

  • Barbara Rhoad, of Windsor, talks about fish species she has seen in Lake Runnemede with Vermont Fish and Wildlife tech Tim Duclos, left, and biologist Lee Simard, right, who were on the lake to conduct a count of fish species in Windsor, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. It is the agency's first time collecting data on the lake and the team, including tech Neil Zook, background, hopes to establish a baseline count of game and non-game fish species, as well as identify any threatened species living in the lake. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Lee Simard releases a carp into Lake Runnemede in Windsor, Vt., after measuring the fish Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife technicians Tim Duclos and Neil Zook stay poised to net fish stunned by an electrical current created by a system of wires dropped in the water from their boat on Lake Runnemede in Windsor, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. The stunned fish are measured and weighed before being returned to the water. The high conductivity of the water made their equipment difficult to adjust to a low enough power to avoid harming fish, so the group abandoned the method for the day. They will return Thursday to set nets for minnows and other small fish. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Windsor — On a sunny morning that felt more like midsummer than late October, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department personnel launched a pontoon-style boat from Lake Runnemede’s northeast shore to begin a three-day fish assessment of the 62-acre town-owned lake.

It is the first such sampling of the lake, which the town bought in the late 1990s.

“The sampling primarily is designed to capture the fish community,” Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Lee Simard said on Wednesday as his colleagues readied the boat. “The idea is, for us to be able to manage a water body, we actually have to know what fish species are in it. We are here to try to document all of the species within the system, capture them and get lengths and weights on them in order to assess the state of the fish population in Lake Runnemede.”

After a 45-minute setup, including outfitting the boat, called a cataraft, with a generator, converter box and wires carrying electrical current dangling off the front and sides of the boat, the electric motor was started and the craft began moving parallel to the big dike on the eastern shore.

On board were Ryan Smith, Neil Zook and Tim Duclos, all with Fish and Wildlife, while Simard walked along the grassy dike carrying the equipment needed to measure and weigh the fish.

Lake Runnemede, shaped somewhat like a horseshoe with a chunk of farmland jutting into the middle from the north, is home to Ogden Pondweed, a rare plant species found in only 10 locations in the world, according to Windsor’s Paradise Park Commission, which manages the lake and park. To protect the plant against the potential introduction of invasive species, boats are prohibited. Fishing is done from the shore in the summer and on ice in the winter. Simard said they received permission from the commission to launch the cataraft and took special precautions to ensure nothing was on the boat that could harm the lake or Pondweed.

In the shallower parts of the lake, Simard said, they were using an “electroshocking” system, with anodes hanging off the front of the boat and cathodes off the side to complete the electrical circuit. Fish within a certain radius of the current are temporarily stunned, then scooped up in a net.

“The electricity is on all the time. It is an effective way we can sample the area as we go along,” Simard said. “Our goal is to sample as much of the shoreline as we can.”

Though some fish were caught, the equipment failed to perform as hoped, primarily because of the high conductivity of the water as the result of its alkalinity, Simard said. At one point, there was concern because the converter was smoking.

Resident Mike Quinn, who taped the work for Windsor On Air, said he was not surprised by that result as he was aware of the water’s alkalinity.

“There is a high mineral content from the spring,” Quinn said.

For deeper portions of the lake, where an electrical current is less effective, Simard said they plan to set nets and traps today and retrieve the captured fish on Friday.

Using both methods, Simard said he is “pretty confident” they will obtain accurate numbers on the lake’s fish population.

“Although we haven’t done a formal assessment, we do have information from the angling public of northern pike, bass and sunfish,” he said. “But there are also a lot of other species within a body of water; different minnow species have different life history traits and live in different environments within a community and can have different impacts on a system.”

“We are excited to see what is out here and hopefully provide more information so we can better manage this body of water,” he said.

Using an electrical current requires a bit of trial and error to get the best setting based on the conductivity — which is how well the electricity travels through water, Simard explained. Too much current and the fish take longer to recover; not enough and they are not affected.

In the initial pass along the shoreline, a few fish — two bass and one blue gill — were caught, measured and weighed, but the converter was malfunctioning and needed to be adjusted.

The information on the population, size and variety of species in the lake will become a baseline that can be measured against future assessments and assist in management of the lake.

As an example, Simard said if they initially document an abundance of northern pike but those numbers show a decline in subsequent assessments, it could indicate “fishing pressure” and the need for some additional regulations.

“But in addition to that, we get a baseline of what species are actually in here,” he said, after weighing and measuring the three fish. “Maybe we will find a rare species we were not aware of.”

Late Wednesday, Simard said that while they caught additional bass and blue gill along with carp, the water’s conductivity rendered the electrical current system less effective and therefore the complete shoreline was not sampled.

“This is a great example of why we use multiple gear types to do assessments,” he said, referring to the nets and traps. “I think we will still have a good representation and get the sampling we want using a different gearing system.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.