The lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) is one of the native Lake Ontario fishes that declined severely over the past century. Recent evidence of larval lake whitefish production in a historic spawning area (Chaumont Bay) might signal a recovery of this species in New York waters. We surveyed coastal and open water areas to evaluate densities and estimate total abundance of larval lake whitefish in Chaumont Bay. Other historic spawning areas and embayments with appropriate spawning and nursery habitat were also surveyed, but only a few larvae were found outside of Chaumont Bay. Lake whitefish larvae were found in every embayment sampled within Chaumont Bay, with larval densities of nearly 600/1000 m2 in some samples. Greatest abundances occurred in the northern sectors and near the mouth of the bay. Open water densities were generally less than half that of nearshore sites. The total bay-wide estimate for 2005 was approximately 644,000 lake whitefish larvae, but dropped to 230,000–400,000 in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Mean larval growth rates (0.36 mm/day) did not differ by year, but were consistently higher in early May than in late April. Lake whitefish production in Chaumont Bay is encouraging for this species, but the cause and persistence of the decline after 2005 can be determined only by continued monitoring. Other possible bottlenecks of survival may exist at juvenile and adult stages and could significantly affect recruitment dynamics. This species is sensitive to normal climatic fluctuations and increased variability associated with global climatic change could make winter nursery conditions unfavorable for this species.
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Spatial and temporal variation in distribution of larval lake whitefish in eastern Lake Ontario: signs of recovery?