We estimated mean depths of capture for offshore demersal fish species, grouped into three habitat-based guilds (shallow benthic, pelagic, and deep benthic), using fall bottom trawl data (27–73 m) in the western main basin of Lake Huron from 1976 to 2007. The mean depth of capture of the shallow and deep benthic guilds initially exhibited a trend toward capture in shallower water, switched to a trend toward capture in deeper water in 1991, and changed back to a trend toward capture in shallower water in 2001–2002. Species in the pelagic guild showed a similar pattern, but the initial change point occurred in 1981 for this guild. Individual species in these guilds showed variable patterns of depth distribution, but a feature common to all guilds and all pelagic and deep benthic species was a change to a trend toward capturing fish in shallower water that occurred nearly simultaneously (1999–2002). These common trends suggest that large-scale factors are affecting the habitat use of offshore demersal fish species in Lake Huron. The depth distributions of the three guilds have converged in recent years, indicating that the locations of suitable habitat for offshore demersal fishes may be changing. Our results indicate that the benthic ecology of the western main basin of Lake Huron is undergoing profound changes across a large spatial scale that are affecting the habitat use of offshore demersal fishes. We suggest that these changes are related to recent invasions of exotic species.
Additional publication details
Long-term trends in habitat use of offshore demersal fishes in western Lake Huron suggest large-scale ecosystem change