The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation assessed the population of alewives Alosa pseudoharengus in U.S. waters of Lake Ontario during 1976–1982 with bottom trawls. Alewives were abundant in 1976 but a die-off greatly reduced their numbers during the winter of 1976–1977. The population quickly recovered, however, adult abundance increasing nearly sevenfold during 1978–1981. In spring 1981 the bottom population in southern Lake Ontario was estimated to be 5.25 × 109 fish weighing 128,500 t. Estimated average alewife biomass per hectare during 1978–1982 far exceeded the estimates for either Lake Michigan during 1967–1982 or western Lake Huron during 1973–1982. Recruitment of age-II fish to the population was affected by abundance of adults in two ways: (1) the number of yearlings produced was directly related to adult abundance at low population levels but inversely related at high population levels; and (2) survival of yearlings to age II was inversely related to adult abundance. Growth in 1977 was exceptional, leaving a wide, unmistakable band on scales of the previously slow-growing adults. This wide growth zone served as a marker to identify survivors of the 1976–1977 die-off and to show that each year after 1978 a successively larger proportion of survivors was failing to grow in length or to form an annulus (54% in 1979, 96% in 1980, and 100% in 1981). There was no marker on scales of alewives recruited after the die-off, but the apparent age composition of our catches strongly suggested that most of them also failed to grow in 1981.
Additional publication details
Dynamics of alewives in Lake Ontario following a mass mortality