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Invasive fish species may threaten Oneida Lake fishing

Saturday is the start of walleye fishing season in the Empire State and some fishermen hit the water as early as midnight.
Oneida Shores (WSYR-TV) -- Saturday is the start of walleye fishing season in the Empire State and some fishermen hit the water as early as midnight.

A huge crowd is expected for the start of the season at Oneida Shores this weekend. As many as 2,000 fishermen and maybe even more are expected – a much bigger turnout than last year due to the nice weather we’ve seen lately, but there’s a bit of concern about an invasive fish species as the season kicks off.

It’s the second most fished lake in the state and it’s estimated the sport pumps 15 to $20-million into the economy every year, which is why biologists are keeping a close eye on the lake and a small fish called round gobies.

Round gobies haven’t been spotted here yet, but researchers say it’s inevitable that the small fish will make their way to Oneida Lake this year, or next – and when they do, they’ll look for food, including fish eggs.

Cornell University Biologist Randy Jackson says, “Specifically bass and sunfish, a nesting species they can get in it if the males that guard the eggs are removed from the nests. The gobies can descend on those and destroy the nests.”

If that happens, biologists say it could impact fish populations that would struggle to reproduce in the lake. On the other hand, gobies reproduce at an alarming rate, making them even more of a concern. They’re also a food source for walleyes, which sounds like a good thing, but when it comes to great fishing, it’s not.

"In a year when there's not much bait for the Walleye to feed on, fishermen have great luck, and year's where there's lots of bait, they don't have very much luck at all, so if the goby became very plentiful it could reduce catch rates,” Jackson said.

Cornell biologists say round gobies have been found as close as the Oneida River. They’ve made their way from Lake Ontario and other Central New York waterways. It’s believed they got to the U.S. through ballast water in the 90s.
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