SUNY ESF Expert to Highlight Turnaround of Onondaga Lake's Fish Population

Feb 13, 2018

A woman holds a massive lake sturgeon caught on Onondaga Lake.
Credit provided photo

A renowned fisheries expert from SUNY ESF admits he never gave Onondaga Lake or its fish much thought as he drove past the lake for ten years.  Now, after more than 30 years of research, Dr. Neil Ringler will discuss improvements in Onondaga Lake’s fish population at a special event later this month.  He says when he first began in 1986, he was astounded at how many fish were in the polluted lake…

"I'm not sure a respectable bald eagle would dive and grab something out of that lake.  But there was never a time that we know of when there were no fish in the lake."

Ringler says while eagles seemed to be aware of the contaminated lake and its fish, the long history of pollution has also been on the minds of Central New Yorkers…

"Over a long period of years, we'd be working along the shoreline, and we'd net the fish, and people would pass on their bicycles and say, 'you're kidding me!  I thought they would have four eyes.  The fish are beautiful, they really are.'  So, giving a talk like this hopefully will let people know, that wow, this is a resource right now.  We don't have to wait another 20 years.  You can sail on it, fish it."

Contrary to the public’s perception, Ringler says he and his students gradually realized there was great potential in Onondaga Lake, even before the clean-up began.  Back in the 80’s, he and his students were always able to find several species of fish.  Now, he says 64 varieties have been documented. 

"The quality of the fishery...now there are large mouth bass, small mouth bass in abundant numbers.  The people go there instead of or sometimes in preference to Oneida Lake, which is most famous lake fishery in New York State.  We have 25-inch brown trout in there now, still getting sturgeon every year.  One year we got 35 sturgeon, the biggest one was just short of six feet."

Ringler says the lake’s clean-up and recovery is something that can’t be overlooked.

"It does prove that we can do this.  There's no other example like this that I know of in the United States.  This is really a big deal."

The Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps is hosting a presentation by Ringler on the fish population Sunday, February 25th at the sixth floor skydeck of Destiny USA.  A birding walk will follow along the Onondaga Creekwalk.  Interested community members are asked to RSVP by this Friday by email montezuma@audubon.org with the subject line “Onondaga Lake," or call (315) 365-3588.  Suggested donation is $5.