Muskellunge in Tennessee: A Historical Overview and Recent Research

Monday, September 9, 2013: 4:20 PM
White Oak (The Marriott Little Rock)
Lila Warren , West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Elkins, WV
Phillip Bettoli , U.S. Geological Survey, Tennessee Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Cookeville, TN
Aaron Cole , Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Barron, WI
Native Muskellunge Esox masquinongy in Tennessee were nearly extirpated in the 1970s due to habitat destruction, principally from coal mining.  Muskellunge were introduced into the Caney Fork River system in 1976 to hedge against the loss of native muskellunge elsewhere in Tennessee. Advanced fingerlings have been stocked sporadically since then and fish longer than 1,300 mm have been caught in recent years. We monitored the fate of two cohorts of radio-tagged advanced fingerlings that we stocked into a tributary of the Caney Fork River in November 2012. Mortality pooled over both cohorts was 79% after 56 d and the cohort that dispersed the farthest suffered the highest mortality. Predators of stocked fish included otters Lutra canadensis and Great Blue Herons Ardea herodias. Seine and electrofishing surveys of nursery habitats documented natural reproduction by Muskellunge in three of four Caney Fork River tributaries and that stocking program is now under critical review.  In Melton Hill Lake, a mainstem impoundment in the headwaters of the Tennessee River system, a trophy Muskellunge fishery developed fairly quickly after a fingerling stocking program commenced in 1998.  No natural reproduction has been documented and that reservoir fishery relies on an annual stocking program.