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Major changes in fish populations occurred in Lake Michigan between the early 1970s and 1984. The abundance of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and several nonnative species of salmonines increased greatly as a result of intensive stocking. The exotic alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), which had proliferated to extremely high levels of abundance in the mid-1960s, declined, particularly in the early 1980s. We believe that the sharp decline in alewives in the 1980s was caused primarily by poor recruitment during the colder than normal years of 1976-82. Several of Lake Michigan's endemic species of fish appeared to be adversely affected by alewives: bloater (Coregonus hoyi), lake herring (C. artedii), emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), and deepwater sculpin (Myoxocephalus thompsoni), and possibly spoonhead sculpin (Cottus ricei). All declined when alewives were abundant, and those that did not become rare, i.e. the bloater, perch, and deepwater sculpin recovered when alewives declined. We present evidence suggesting that the mechanism by which alewives affect native species is not by competition for food, as has often been hypothesized, and discuss the possibility that it is predation on early life stages. Despite the decreased availability of alewives in the early 1980s, salmonines continued to eat mainly alewives. The highly abundant alternate prey species were eaten only sparingly, but alewives still may have been abundant enough to meet the forage requirements of salmonines. Two new exotics, the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), increased in abundance in the 1980s, and could become detrimental (particularly the salmon) to other species.
Additional Publication Details
Recent changes in Lake Michigan's fish community and their probable causes, with emphasis on the role of the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences