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Wildlife Watch: Vermont, Quebec explore joint fishery management for Memphremagog

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 1:57 PM EST
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NEWPORT, Vt. (WCAX) - Like Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog in the Northeast Kingdom straddles both sides of the international boundary. In the past, Vermont and Quebec have managed the lake differently for anglers, but now work is underway to create a joint management plan.

Fishing shanties dot the icy expanse of Lake Memphremagog. The majority of the 30-mile long lake is in Quebec. “About 15 to 20% is here in Vermont -- at least surface area. What’s unique or ironic, I guess, is that about 75% of the drainage area -- in other words the rivers that fill the lake -- about 75% of the water that comes into the lake start in Vermont. Most of our rivers that feed this lake the fish use to breed in are in Vermont, but most of the water where the fish live as adults is in Quebec, and that requires a joint management, which we don’t have presently,” said Peter Emerson, a biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

He says not having joint management with the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks can leave anglers confused when different rules apply on different sides of the lake. Emmerson says one example is managing steelhead trout. In Vermont, there is a daily two-fish limit. But that changes just a few miles upstream.

“If they go up to Quebec, the daily limit is 10 -- 10 fish allowed per day with no length limit -- and there is a real good justification for that. The fish that are leaving Vermont are actually sometimes leaving the lake and heading into the St. Lawernce Seaway. This lake flows north into Quebec and into the St. Lawrence Seaway. Once they get down there they can’t get back -- too many dams, too many waterfalls -- so they go and find another river to spawn in and the rivers that they are spawning in have Atlantic salmon, which is a very different fishery. it’s a big economic boom for Quebec, it’s a multi-million dollar industry. It’s also world-famous. It has enormous fish, lots of them, and when they start seeing invasive species like a rainbow trout enter their fishery they are concerned, so they said we are not going to have that. We are going to stop the rainbow trout at the source,” Emerson said.

He says Quebec and Vermont regulations are clashing, making it difficult to enforce or explain their management strategies. “When you are having management discussions, one organization is saying let’s take them all and the other organizations says let’s put them in, it creates some controversy and it creates difficulty explaining your rules and regulations,” Emerson said.

But that appears to be changing. After years of independent management of the fisheries, Vermont and Quebec are in preliminary discussions that could create a unique working relationship. This stems from several years of collecting data on both sides of the lake.

“When it comes to writing rules and regulations on the lake, we really do have different mechanisms for how we make rules, how we enforce rules, so it’s been good for us to start conversing, to say, ‘Hey, maybe it would make more sense for us to have similar regulations or at least regulations that are not in direct opposition for our management objectives,’” Emerson said.

He says the goal is to present the public in Vermont and Quebec with a plan within the next few years. “Right now we are just doing our thing and they are doing their thing and we are not really counting them together. We have to start saying when we stock fish, are we doing the right thing? And when we harvest fish, are we paying attention to both sides of the border, not just our own side? It’s really just getting the people together to talk and get that data sussed out and make sure we are on the same page,” Emerson said.

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