Chapter 3: Oneida Lake BC (Before Cornell)
James R. Jackson
This volume showcases the research program on Oneida Lake initiated by John Forney and his students at the Cornell Biological Field Station (CBFS) in the 1950s. The resulting long-term dataset covering the fisheries and ecology of the lake stands as one of the finest available for a northern temperate lake. Forney’s research concentrated on factors affecting the recreational Walleye (scientific names for fish species mentioned in this Chapter can be found in Table 1) fishery on Oneida Lake, considered the premiere fishery for the species in New York State and by far the most important fishery on the lake. The research program that grew from Forney’s earliest efforts expanded to include multiple trophic levels and ultimately attempted to incorporate both the pelagic and littoral fish communities, but all largely within the context of understanding the Walleye population and factors that affected it (e.g., Forney 1980). An overriding theme of the research over the most recent decades has been understanding perturbations brought about by invasive species and other more recent environmental changes. All of this research has taken place within the modern era of Oneida Lake’s fisheries, specifically the recreational fishing era with Walleye as the central focus.
Oneida Lake, of course, has a much longer history than that captured by the research program at the CBFS. A survey of the literature reveals that the fish resources of the lake have been central to the culture of the area’s residents from the time the very first humans moved into the region shortly after the last ice age. The historical picture presents a lake that was very different from the one John Forney began his researches on, and reveals that human activities had contributed to fundamental changes in the lake and the fisheries it supported long before the Walleye era. Here I present a brief history of Oneida Lake and its fisheries prior to the establishment of the CBFS.