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Great Lakes prey fish populations: a cross-basin overview of status and trends based on bottom trawl surveys, 1978-2013

Great Lakes Fishery Commission
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ORCID iD and ORCID iD

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Abstract

The assessment of Great Lakes prey fish stocks have been conducted annually with bottom trawls since the 1970s by the Great Lakes Science Center, sometimes assisted by partner agencies. These stock assessments provide data on the status and trends of prey fish that are consumed by important commercial and recreational fishes. Although all these annual surveys are conducted using bottom trawls, they differ among the lakes in the proportion of the lake covered, seasonal timing, trawl gear used, and the manner in which the trawl is towed (across or along bottom contours). Because each assessment is unique, population indices were standardized to the highest value for a time series within each lake for the following prey species: Cisco (Coregonus artedi), Bloater (C. hoyi), Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax), Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), and Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus). In this report, standardized indices are presented in graphical form along with synopses to provide a short, informal cross-basin summary of the status and trends of principal prey fishes. There was basin-wide agreement in the trends of age-1 and older biomass for all prey species, with the highest concordance occurring for coregonids and Rainbow Smelt, and weaker concordance for Alewife. For coregonids, the highest biomass occurred from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Rainbow Smelt biomass declined slowly and erratically during the last quarter century. Alewife biomass was generally higher from the early 1980s through 1990s across the Great Lakes, but since the early 1990s, trends have been divergent across the lakes, though there has been a downward trend in all lakes since 2005. Recently, Lake Huron has shown resurgence in biomass of Bloater, achieving 75% of its maximum record in 2012 due to recruitment of a succession of strong and moderate year classes that appeared in 2005-2011. Also, strong recruitment of the 2010 year class of Alewife has led to a sharp increase in biomass of Alewife in Lake Michigan. In general, trends in year-class strengths were less concordant across the basin and only coregonids showed statistical agreement across the upper Great Lakes. The appearance of strong and moderate year-classes of Bloater in Lake Huron in 2005- 2011 countered the trend of continuing weak year-classes of coregonids in Lakes Michigan and Superior. Not shown in our analysis is the appearance of the 2013 year-class of Bloater in Huron, the largest to date. There was no agreement in cross-basin trends in year-class strengths for Rainbow Smelt and Alewife, although there was agreement between pairs of lakes. Although there was statistical agreement in trends of age-0 and older Round Goby biomass among lakes where this species has successfully invaded (Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario), temporal patterns of biomass in each lake were different. Round Goby may be approaching equilibrium in Lake Erie, peaking in Lake Huron, and expanding in Lake Michigan. The trend in Lake Ontario remains unclear. Declining abundance in Lake Erie has corresponded with evidence that Round Goby have become increasingly incorporated into piscivore diets, e.g., Lake Trout, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, and Burbot in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. Round Goby continue to be absent from spring bottom trawl assessments in Lake Superior, but their presence in the harbors and embayments of Duluth and Thunder Bay (U.S. Geological Survey and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, unpublished data), suggests that there is potential for future colonization.

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Unnumbered Series
Title:
Great Lakes prey fish populations: a cross-basin overview of status and trends based on bottom trawl surveys, 1978-2013
Year Published:
2014
Language:
English
Publisher:
Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Publisher location:
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Contributing office(s):
Great Lakes Science Center
Description:
9 p.
First page:
1
Last page:
9
Country:
United States and Canada
Other Geospatial:
Great Lakes
Online Only (Y/N):
N
Additional Online Files (Y/N):
N