The ruffe Gymnocephalus cernuus, an exotic Eurasian percid, recently became established in the St. Louis River estuary, Lake Superior, after accidental introduction. Management action (catch regulations and stocking) were enacted in 1989 to increase the density of top-level predators in the estuary, and thus to increase predation on ruffe. We conducted a field and laboratory study to determine if, and to what extent, native piscivores consume ruffe. Stomachs of 3,669 predators were examined in 1989-1991. Ruffe occurred in 6.7% of burbot Lota lota, 5.8% of bullheads Ictalurus spp., 4.7% of smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu, 2.6% of northern pike Esox lucius, 2.6% of black crappies Pomoxis nigromaculatus, and 1.3% of yellow perch Perca flavescens (4.5% after 1989) captured during the 3-year study. No ruffe were found in 967 stomachs of walleyes Stizostedion vitreum examined. Ruffe were 22.7% of the diet (by weight) of bullheads (during the only year bullheads were captured) and 0.1-17.9% of the diet of northern pike. Ruffe were 0.9-24.5% of the diet of smallmouth bass that contained fish, 1.5-6.9% of yellow perch that contained fish, and 0.0-10.9% of black crappies that contained fish. Most ruffe eaten were age-0 or small age-1 fish. In the laboratory, walleyes that were first fed soft-rayed prey or that were also offered soft-rayed prey consumed very few ruffe, whereas walleyes that were first fed spiny-rayed yellow perch or were also offered yellow perch consumed about equal numbers of ruffe and yellow perch. Northern pike and burbot consumed about equal numbers of ruffe and yellow perch in the laboratory. It is unlikely that predation will effectively control the initial expansion of ruffe in other areas of the Great Lakes because native predators initially consume few ruffe, especially if more preferred soft-rayed prey are available.
Additional publication details
Predation on ruffe by native fishes of the St. Louis River Estuary, Lake Superior, 1989-1991