SPORT FISHING IS ORLEANS COUNTY’S #1 TOURISM DRAW, BUT WITH GREAT LAKES FISH POPULATIONS LIKE SALMON & TROUT UNDER THREAT FROM LOSS OF HABITAT, ACCESS TO SPAWNING AREAS, AND NEEDED FISHERY INVESTMENTS, SCHUMER LAUNCHES MAJOR PUSH FOR BILL THAT WOULD CREATE A NEW FEDERAL PROGRAM TO HELP PROTECT AND GROW FISH POPULATION IN LAKE ONTARIO
Schumer: Sport Fishing Is The #1 Tourism Industry In Orleans County; New Bill Will Support Future Infrastructure Updates To Improve Great Lakes Fisheries And Restore Habitats Across Lake Ontario And Tributaries
Schumer Urges Congress To Quickly Pass Bill To Invest & Protect Our Great Lakes For Future Generations
Schumer: Preserving Lake Ontario’s Fisheries Will Reel In Big Tourism Dollars For Years To Come
Standing with tourism officials, marina owners, charter fishing boat captains, and sport fishermen at Bald Eagle Marina in Orleans County, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced a major push to support Orleans County’s Sport Fishing industry, and protect local fish populations. In the middle of Orleans County’s world-class salmon and brown trout autumn fishing season, and as fish begin their spawning migrations up the Oak Orchard River and other local waterways, Schumer pushed for legislation that would support infrastructure updates to improve fisheries and restore habitats across Lake Ontario and its tributaries like Oak Orchard River. Specifically, the bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts, and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Schumer emphasized that this program is necessary to not only protect Orleans County’s sport fishing industry, tourism, jobs, and the economy but to help provide funding to undertake needed local infrastructure repair projects.
“Sport Fishing is the #1 tourism industry in Orleans County. Each year droves of tourists - many from other states - pump over $12 million into the economy, supporting local employers like marinas, bait shops, charter boat operators, restaurants, and inns. But it is all dependent on us protecting and maintaining fish populations in Lake Ontario,” said Senator Schumer. “Protecting and improving Lake Ontario’s fisheries, especially through funding for infrastructure updates, is a win-win to not only boost our sport finishing industry but to provide much-needed funding to fix faulty and dilapidated infrastructure.”
Schumer is a cosponsor of The Great Lakes Aquatic Connectivity and Infrastructure Program Act, a bill introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, Tammy Duckworth, and Sherrod Brown, who also represent Great Lake states. The bill supports infrastructure updates that will improve Great Lakes fisheries and restore habitats. The bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across the Great Lakes Basin. Additionally, the bill creates a grant program that would fund infrastructure projects to help improve fisheries.
For example, Schumer cited an example of one now unfunded project long sought by the local Orleans County sport fishing community to reconfigure the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam. This channel can now trap hundreds of fish as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. When the river water level rises, fish can enter the overflow channel only to then become trapped and stranded as the water level drops. Every year fish are lost to the fishery at this site, including an estimated 300 Chinook salmon that were trapped and died in the channel in 2006, reducing the number of Chinook available to anglers and causing aesthetic issues resulting from the dead fish.
Schumer also noted that there are now approximately 400 culverts through Orleans County that must be maintained, often at an expensive cost to local taxpayers. For example, the County recently replaced four aging culverts that carry waters of Oak Orchard Creek River at a cost of over $1.2 million which was funded from an $8 million county bond issue in 2014. Schumer noted this legislation could help provide funds to offset the cost of replacing these culverts while improving fish habitats and spawning areas.
Fishing is Orleans County’s lead tourism draw, accounting for half, $12M in direct visitor spending, of all the tourism dollars that come to Orleans each year. According to Orleans County tourism officials, the Lake Ontario waters off of Orleans County are among the most prolific Great Lakes trophy trout and salmon producers. Together with the Oak Orchard River, the third-most fished Lake Ontario tributary that empties into Lake Ontario at the Village of Point Breeze, these Orleans County waters form a world-class destination for year-round trout and salmon sport fishery. The county boasts more than 30 charter boat operators, several marinas, bait shops and dozens of fishing derbies and tournaments that attract droves of out-of-state tourists as indicated by the World Fishing Network’s (WFN) designation of Point Breeze as the WFN’s 2013 Ultimate Fishing Town.
In the spring and summer, the deep cool waters off Orleans’s shores in Lake Ontario provide prime fishing for Chinook, Coho and Atlantic Salmon as well as Steelhead, Lake Trout and Brown Trout. In the Fall from September to November, the salmon, steelhead, and up to 20 lb. brown trout begin their spawning migration up the Oak Orchard River and other tributaries including Johnson Creek attracting anglers and fly fishers.
Aquatic connectivity is crucial to migratory fish like salmon, trout, bass, and other species in Lake Ontario. Declines in migratory fish populations are attributed to habitat degradation, invasive species, and barriers that restrict upstream movement. According to The Nature Conservancy, when fish cannot travel far enough upstream to reach ideal spawning environments, they may be forced to spawn in sub-optimal conditions, which threatens egg survival. Schumer's bill aligns with the goals to support recreational fisheries, restore habitats and spawning areas, and reconnect native fish with their natural habitats. Schumer noted that removal or replacement of dams, improved road crossings, and construction of fish passageways around immovable barriers are all examples of infrastructure improvements that can support and protect migratory fish.
Schumer was joined by, Orleans County Department of Tourism Sportfishing Coordinator Mike Waterhouse, Bald Eagle Marina owner Susan Oschmann, Charter Fishing Boat Operators Jerry Felluca and Lucas Falkner, Orleans County Legislature Chairman John DeFilipps, Orleans County Soil & Water District Field Manager Dennis Kirby
Mike Waterhouse, Orleans County Department of Tourism Sportfishing Coordinator said, “Orleans County’s economy is dependent on protecting our world-class fishery and that requires investments to repair infrastructure, combat invasive species, and improve fishing habitats. For example, we have long sought to construct a raceway to prevent fish that get stranded and die in the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for this new funding program to help grow Great Lakes sportfishing which is our top tourism industry.”
Schumer has long been an advocate for legislation and funding that supports protecting and preserving the Great Lakes. Most recently, Schumer secured over $1,000,000 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for NYS. Schumer has also secured funding to combat invasive species in the Finger Lakes, and protect the flood damaged shorelines of Lake Ontario.