Sex-specific differences in mortality rates have been observed among freshwater and marine fish taxa, and underlying mechanisms can include sex-specific differences in (1) age at maturity, (2) growth rate, or (3) activity or behavior during the spawning period. We used a long-term (1973–2009) Lake Michigan data set to evaluate whether there were sex-specific differences in catch per unit effort, mortality, age at maturity, and length at age in bloaters Coregonus hoyi. Because bloater population biomass varied 200-fold during the years analyzed, we divided the data into three periods: (1) 1973–1982 (low biomass), (2) 1983–1997 (high biomass), and (3) 1998–2009 (low biomass). Mortality was higher for males than for females in periods 2 and 3; the average instantaneous total mortality rate (Z) over these two periods was 0.71 for males and 0.57 for females. Length at age was slightly greater (2–6%) for females than for males in different age-classes (3–6 years) during each period. Age at maturity was earlier for males than for females in periods 1 and 2, but the mean difference was only 0.2–0.4 years. To test the hypothesis that somatic lipids declined more in males than in females during spawning (perhaps due to increased activity or reduced feeding), we estimated sex-specific percent somatic lipids for fish sampled in 2005–2006 and 2007–2008. During 2005–2006, somatic lipids declined from prespawning to postspawning for males but were unchanged for females. During 2007–2008, however, somatic lipids were unchanged for males, whereas they increased for females. We found that sex-specific differences in Z occurred in the Lake Michigan bloater population, but our hypotheses that sex-specific differences in maturity and growth could explain this pattern were generally unsupported. Our hypothesis that somatic lipids in males declined during spawning at a faster rate than in females will require additional research to clarify its importance.
Additional publication details
Exploring mechanisms underlying sex-specific differences in mortality of Lake Michigan bloaters