Restocking plans for Cheniere Lake

(Photo courtesy Ryan Daniel/LDWF)

Slow but hopeful progress in fish revitalization project

While reigning as the largest lake in Ouachita Parish and spanning nearly 3,600 acres at pool stage, Cheniere Lake became the victim of collateral damage in 2016 when the floodwaters overtopped its dam. Due to repairs needed to the spillway, bridge, and dam, the lake was drained and has remained at a minimal water level for the past seven years. Now the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is monitoring water levels and quality while making an attempt to restock the lake’s fisheries. Plans include a conservative approach in returning the lake to previous standards of fishing and water use.

“Cheniere is not a very deep lake with an average depth of six feet,” said Ryan Daniel, LDWF District 2 Fisheries Biologist Manager. “It was a tupelo and cypress swamp impounded in the 1940s to hold water.”

After refilling the lake in January of this year, Daniel said LDWF conducted a sampling in March. The results showed there were very few fish.

“We decided we needed to come up with a restocking program,” said Daniel. “We started restocking Florida strain bass, crappie, bream and shad.”

According to Daniel, LDWF conducted an additional sampling in early May which reinstated hope in Cheniere’s future fisheries population. Baby bass, crappie and bream were discovered during the sampling process.

“Because we found babies, we can say Cheniere had a spawn this spring,” Daniel said.

Although fishing is open to the public in Cheniere Lake, Daniel sees no concern in depleting the current fish population. With no signs of large fish calling Cheniere home, Daniel feels most anglers will refrain from making the attempt.

“You probably won’t catch keeper sized fish in Cheniere right now,” he said. “If folks aren’t catching sizeable fish, they won’t make the effort.”

A word of warning

Daniel does exercise concern in other areas of Cheniere’s revitalization. He fears good Samaritans might try to catch large fish in other bodies of water and then introduce them into Cheniere to help speed up the fish population’s growth.

“First off, you have to have a permit to relocate fish into other waters,” Daniel said. “We do not want people to unintentionally introduce an evasive species. Adult bass for instance could start eating the smaller fish.”

Daniel is additionally concerned about the lake’s oxygen levels. A strong rotten egg odor points to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) surfacing from decomposing matter left behind from previous flooding. Although some data indicates minimal oxygen levels improving, Daniel warns that the plankton growth has not developed to the levels that LDWF would like to see.

“We need more stable water and sunlight to develop plankton,” he said.

Although Cheniere Lake’s future shows promise, it is plagued by a slow process. Daniel said no special regulations are needed at this time. The lake will remain open while LDWF continues to monitor water quality and fish habitat. Pending no further damage from potential storms or any other unexpected and unplanned events, Daniel remains confident in Cheniere Lake returning as a fishing hotspot.

“We are at least two years away from catching sizeable fish,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate the need for any potential regulation changes by the end of the current year.”