New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has released the draft of a management plan for Upper Cattaraugus Creek fisheries for public comment.
The draft plan provides a roadmap for fisheries management following the planned fish passage project at the Springville Dam. DEC is accepting public comments on the draft plan until Jan. 25.
“Cattaraugus Creek provides some of the most diverse trout fishing experiences in New York state,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Lower Cattaraugus Creek is regarded as one of the premier destinations in North America for steelhead anglers, and upper Cattaraugus Creek provides excellent angling opportunities for resident rainbow and brown trout. This plan seeks to enhance Cattaraugus Creek as a premier destination in Western New York for a year-round, high-quality sport fishery.”
The main stem of the lower reach of the Cattaraugus extends from the mouth at Lake Erie upstream 34 miles to Springville Dam. The upper reach extends another 34 miles to its source, and along with its numerous tributaries offers fishing for resident trout, abundant angler access and high-quality spawning and nursery habitat.
A long-planned fish passage project at Springville Dam will allow steelhead access to many miles of additional high-quality habitat and provide new fishing opportunities, the DEC says. This passage project may also be accompanied by some changes to the existing upstream fisheries.
The Cattaraugus Creek watershed includes portions of five Western New York counties and the Seneca Nation of Indians territory. The entire watershed encompasses about 357,640 acres (more than 550 square miles) of western New York and includes many of the best stocked and wild trout streams in the region.
The main stem of Cattaraugus Creek flows west from its headwaters at Java Lake in Wyoming County for 65 miles, emptying into Lake Erie at Irving. In the lowest reaches of Cattaraugus Creek near Lake Erie, warm water species including walleye, smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sucker species use this tributary as spawning and nursery habitat. At 34 miles above the creek’s mouth, Springville Dam is the first barrier impassable to migratory fish from Lake Erie.
The dam has not generated electricity since 1998 and is currently maintained by Erie County as a recreational park. In 2017, a formal partnership agreement was signed between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the DEC and Erie County to design, engineer and construct a $7 million dam modification/fish passage project at this location.
Construction is projected to occur as early as 2020.
The dam fish passage plan calls for lowering the dam spillway from 40 feet to approximately 15 feet and constructing a fish passage channel and weir. The weir will allow seasonal passage of selected fish species while also maintaining a barrier to sea lamprey migration.
DEC notes the Cattaraugus is one of the most productive sea lamprey spawning and nursery areas in Lake Erie, and if the dam was altogether removed to address existing safety issues, or if the fish passage weir was not selective, this entire system would become accessible to sea lamprey.
In their adult life phase, sea lamprey are highly parasitic and can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in a year. Maintaining a sea lamprey barrier is a critical element of this project and will allow the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) and their sea lamprey control agents the ability to continue ongoing sea lamprey population control/assessment activities.
The full draft of the Upper Cattaraugus Creek Fisheries Management Plan is available on DEC’s website.
To comment on the plan, the public can email with the subject line “Upper Cattaraugus Creek Plan” to firstname.lastname@example.org or send written comments via U.S. Mail to: Jason Robinson, Unit Leader, Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit, 178 Point Drive North, Dunkirk, NY 14048-1031.