Missisquoi River Muskie Restoration Efforts

Transferring muskie to the Lake. Photo by Tom Wiggins, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department gave its recently-established muskellunge restoration effort a boost in August when it stocked 250 four-month old muskellunge in the Missisquoi River Delta. The fish were donated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.The muskellunge, related to northern pike, but larger, is a prized sport fish. Lake Champlain and the Missisquoi River are the only locations in New England that historically had a native muskellunge population. Muskellunge were native to Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay but the population that last existed upstream of the Swanton Dam was apparently lost in the late 1970s following a chemical spill that occurred on the upper river.  

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recently completed a genetic assessment of a very small number of muskellunge caught since 2005 in the Lake Champlain Basin. “In the last couple years, anglers have reported catching an occasional muskie in the lower Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay,” said Shawn Good, Chair of the department’s Muskellunge Team, and the fisheries biologist leading the restoration efforts. “Through a very successful outreach effort, we were able to work with local anglers and taxidermists in the Swanton area and obtain tissue samples from a number of these incidental muskie catches. Genetic analysis of these tissue samples reveal the muskellunge anglers have been catching in the area are not from the original native strain.”

“The muskie that anglers have been catching in the Missisquoi came from the Great Chazy River in New York, as their genetic makeup is identical to the Lake Chautauqua-strain muskie the NYDEC have stocked there for many years,” said Good. He notes they now know some of those fish make their way down the Chazy and out into Lake Champlain to the Missisquoi Bay and River. There are also a small number of muskellunge in Otter Creek. These fish originated from Pennsylvania following a Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department stocking effort more than 20 years ago.