Commercial catch and effort statistics for 1929-70, samples of commercial catches in 1959-62, and records of examinations of all lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) taken commercially in inshore waters of Michigan and Wisconsin in 1962-70 were the basis for descriptions of changes in the population in 1929-70.
Abundance fluctuated cyclically and gradually downward in 1929-49, whereas fishing intensity tended to increase during the same period. In 1950-52, a change from cotton to nylon twine in gillnets raised effective fishing effort to 305% of the 1929-43 average in Michigan waters and to 228% in Wisconsin waters; production held near average. Abundance fell to 18% of average in Michigan in 1953-61 and to 25% of average in Wisconsin in 1956-61; in the same periods, production fell to 11% of average in Michigan and to 19% in Wisconsin. In 1962-70 abundance rose to 160% in Michigan and 246% in Wisconsin while production and fishing intensity were held low (3-14%) by regulation.
Changes in abundance of lake trout were attributable to a sequence of developments in successive series of years; intensive fishing in the early 1950's; severe sea lamprey predation in the late 1950's; an 85% reduction in abundance of sea lampreys in mid 1961; and the combination of sea lamprey control, intensive stocking of yearling lake trout, and restrictions on fishing in 1962-70. A decline in average size of lake trout and the near elimination of spawning stocks in 1953-61 curtailed recruitment of native lake trout in the mid 1960's. Stocking of fin-clipped lake trout replaced natural reproduction in the early 1960's. In 1965-70, the lake trout population was composed mainly of hatchery-reared fish. Natural reproduction was reestablished on one major spawning shoal in Wisconsin in 1965, but in 1970 only 10% of the legal (17-inch and longer) and 17% of the undersize lake trout in Wisconsin were native fish.
Reduction of sea lamprey abundance resulted in an immediate increase in survival and abundance of lake trout, especially of the larger sizes. As abundance of lake trout progressively increased in 1962-70, survival of the smaller legal-size lake trout increased, probably due to reduction of the predator-prey ratio and an increase in availability of larger lake trout preferred by sea lampreys. Abundance of spawning-size lake trout was limited by high natural mortality in 1965-70. Circumstantial evidence suggested that sea lamprey predation contributed a major part of the high natural mortality.