They say that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the fishermen. No doubt the guy on the right in the accompanying photo fits into that category.

Thomas Russell of Albion, Orleans County, caught a state-record smallmouth bass during a recent tournament on Cayuga Lake. It weighed 8 pounds, 5.8 ounces, beating the previous mark by about 2 ounces.

Russell and his cousin, Eric Sullivan, were competing in the Finger Lakes Open Trail bass tournament. Often, competitors will not disclose the exact location of a catch for the obvious reason of not giving away a really good spot. Russell and Sullivan released the big fish back into Cayuga Lake after it was weighed.

The previous record of 8 pounds, 4 ounces, was achieved twice: on Lake Erie in 1995 and the St. Lawrence River in 2016.

Word at the tournament was that sawbellies, gobies and alewives were in abundance, resulting in many decent-size catches.

The guy on the left in the photo — me — is in the category of amateur angler who is part of the group that doesn’t catch many fish. Though I live in a cottage by Seneca Lake, my simple desire is to attach a worm to a line with a bobber and relax. Kim, Grover (our dog) and I are there to enjoy the natural beauty. Any catch is an added plus. Truth be told, there aren’t many, and that’s OK.

The past few years I have caught a few catfish, and that’s it. The neighbor’s lab, Finn, is obsessed with fish, roams the docks constantly and, no kidding, in some years caught (grabbed) more fish than I have.

I gotta tell you, one highlight for me was catching a bullhead while fishing with my two grandkids last year. At ages 3 and 6, it was a “first fish” experience for them.

A decade ago, I could see many fish swimming around the shoreline, and catching a few rock bass and sunfish was common. Those days seem gone.

Seneca Lake does not seem to be flourishing like Cayuga Lake.

First, check the numbers at the National Lake Trout Derby, which is held every Memorial Day weekend. This year’s winner, a lake trout, weighed an even 10 pounds; in the 58 years of the tournament, only two winners were lighter.

The following is from an article written by freelance blogger Peter Mantius, who lives in Watkins Glen: “Michael Black of Dundee, who’s fished (Seneca Lake) steadily since the 1970s, said he’d routinely catch 35-50 fish during the National Lake Trout Derby on a Memorial Day weekend, sometimes winning prizes. ‘For the last five years, I’m lucky if I’ve caught one fish for 200 hours of fishing. … I know a lot of fishermen who are going to Cayuga, to Keuka, to Lake Ontario, and they’re skipping right by Seneca,’ Black said.”

So, what is the reason for the decline in fish population? Likely, there are several factors.

The run-off from area farms into the lake is harmful. It can be mixed with fertilizer and chemicals.

Another could be the controversial Greenidge Generation power plant in Dresden, now a cryptomining operation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in my opinion, shoulders major blame. It is an organization tasked with being a watchdog against what is happening to Seneca Lake; however, again in my opinion, it has become an accomplice to it. How, you ask? Well, the DEC seems resistant to the idea of requiring Greenidge to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement for its planned expansion.

According to the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, the DEC grandfathered the old discharge permit limits and allowed extensive time for studies to design and implement the needed actions to reduce fish kill. Yet the DEC appears to want to look the other way regarding thermal studies, along with the screens to protect fish from the intake pipes — even to set pollution discharge limits.

To give you a better perspective, Greenidge can discharge 134 million gallons of hot water (up to 108 degrees) a day into Keuka Outlet, a designated trout stream, even though the DEC has warned that water temperatures above 70 stress or kill heat-sensitive fish.

When the DEC allowed the plant to restart in 2017, it was on the condition that it would, within five years, install screens on its water intake pipe to minimize harm to fish and other aquatic species. It didn’t seem to matter that the federal Clean Water Act requires these screens.

Greenidge still doesn’t have them installed.

Who else is to blame? The Torrey Planning Board voted 4-1 to waive its authority to require a full EIS for the proposed expansion. The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes has argued that this ignored a Torrey zoning code requirement that approved developments must “not adversely impact … environmentally sensitive features,” specifically including Seneca Lake and the Keuka Outlet.

The Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association has been involved in trying to protect the health of Seneca Lake.

“The Keuka Outlet is a designated trout stream, and thermally polluted streams can see a decline in available oxygen, resulting in a decline in trout populations,” Pure Waters has written. The group also has noted that hot-water discharges tend to promote harmful algal blooms, which the Times has reported on often the past few years.

In 2011, The Sierra Club published a landmark study that was critical of primitive “once-through” cooling systems such as Greenidge’s. The study was called “Giant Fish Blenders: How Power Plants Kill Fish and Damage our Waterways.”

According to Mantius, the cooling water from Seneca Lake enters the plant through an intake pipe 7 feet in diameter that extends 650 feet offshore, into water 11 feet deep (pictured in the accompanying photo).

Greenidge is not the only culprit. Salt mines adjacent to the lake have DEC permits to discharge millions of gallons of brine into the lake.

Pure Waters and the Finger Lakes Institute teamed up with the National Lake Trout Derby this year to conduct a study to better understand the health of the fish in Seneca Lake. Researchers from the Finger Lakes Institute collected samples from approximately 50 lake trout brought to the weigh stations at Clute Park in Watkins Glen and Stivers Seneca Marine in Fayette. Hopefully, the study will provide a better idea on the status of the fishery. After all, this region’s No. 1 asset is the natural beauty of its land and water.

Peter Mantius is the creator and editor of The Water Front Online, a blog dedicated to environmental issues in the Finger Lakes and Upstate New York.

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  • Greenidge
  • Bigger Picture
  • Spencer Tulis
  • Seneca Lake
  • New York State Department Of Environmental Conservation

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