The Lake Nessmuk habitat improvement project was one of the largest fish habitat projects completed in the state of Pennsylvania in 2015. The Lake Nessmuk dam breast needed significant repairs in 2015 due to its unsafe high hazard rating. The reservoir needed to be drained to fix the dam. This left many anglers upset about the loss of their local fishing spot, until they realized they could significantly improve this fishery. This lake needed complex physical habitat which was degraded over several decades.
To complete a “large scale” fish habitat project the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) needed to bring in partners who had the same vested interest in the fishery. This partnership project utilized eight major partners including: Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership, Shell Appalachia, Department of Conservation Natural Resources, Wellsboro’s Park and Recreation Authority, Penn State University, Tackle Shack, Tioga County Bass Anglers and PFBC Division of Construction and Maintenance. The group set goals, prioritized and were ready for the challenge.
Artificial habitats (refuge, spawning, nesting and nursery) are designed to be effective, long lasting structures that allow fish to accomplish their daily and seasonal tasks with greater efficiency. Some artificial habitats have dual purposes and may also provide increased opportunities for anglers to catch and harvest fish (fish attraction). They can also provide increased surface areas for algae attachment, aquatic insect colonization and other food organisms which may increase fishery production. Many of these artificial habitats are designed to aide multiple fish species in completing various survival tasks (performance structures), which may also provide an opportunity to increase productivity within some impoundments. Small fish may utilize habitat (artificial, native or natural) to avoid predation by occupying habitat where predators cannot forage or (as predators) to utilize complex habitat as foraging areas. Increasing complex habitat may allow coexistence of predators and prey through the creation of microhabitat types. Increasing habitat complexity may positively influence predator efficiency by providing small fish with refuge in areas of high structure.
This project is a prime example of corporate, government and private sponsorship of a habitat restoration project. The end result will be a vibrant aquatic resource with associated benefits to the local community.
One of the more common results of reservoir aging is a complete breakdown of woody structure often leaving a barren lake basin completely devoid of cover essential for healthy fish communities. The drawdown of Nessmuck for needed dam repair provided an opportunity for project partners to address this habitat issue in a dry lake basin. More cover can be added at reduced cost under these circumstances.
A typical PA habitat improvement project usually comprises of building 20 habitat improvement structures in a year which leaves a small footprint in relation to the full lake bottom. These projects are typically limited by funding and access. In the case of Lake Nessmuk, the dam repair drawdown provided machinery access to the lake substrate and Shell provided the financial backbone to make the project come to life. This project yielded over 820 habitat improvement structures providing a broad footprint across the lake bottom. The Lake Nessmuk structures are built to last and will provide fish cover for the next 35 years or longer. Some of the installed structures also provide critical spawning habitat in areas that did not have this type of habitat.
This project has educated multiple state agencies, project partners, university/school groups, communities and fishing clubs. The project had several news articles written about it locally, statewide, and even nationally. It serves as a perfect example of how partners can work together to complete a large project to benefit the community. To further educate the public about the project a three-sided kiosk was installed at the main access of the lake. The kiosk will serve to educate visitors about the habitat project for many years to come. In addition to the fish habitat and kiosk, the facility now has a new boat launch, dock, and soccer field.