Benthic prey fish assessment, Lake Ontario 2013

NYSDEC Lake Ontario Annual Report 2013- 12
By: , and 



The 2013 benthic fish assessment was delayed and shortened as a result of the U.S. Government shutdown, however the assessment collected 51 of the 62 planned bottom trawls.

Over the past 34 years, Slimy Sculpin abundance in Lake Ontario has fluctuated, but ultimately decreased by two orders of magnitude, with a substantial decline occurring in the past 10 years. The 2013 Slimy Sculpin mean bottom trawl catch density (0.001 ind.·m-2, s.d.= 0.0017, n = 52) and mean biomass density (0.015 g·m-2 , s.d.= 0.038, n = 52) were the lowest recorded in the 27 years of sampling using the original bottom trawl design. From 2011-2013, the Slimy Sculpin density and biomass density has decreased by approximately 50% each year. Spring bottom trawl catches illustrate Slimy Sculpin and Round Goby Neogobius melanostoma winter habitat overlaps for as much as 7 months out of a year, providing opportunities for competition and predation. Invasive species, salmonid piscivory, and declines in native benthic invertebrates are likely all important drivers of Slimy Sculpin population dynamics in Lake Ontario.

Deepwater Sculpin Myoxocephalus thompsonii, considered rare or absent from Lake Ontario for 30 years, have generally increased over the past eight years. For the first time since they were caught in this assessment, Deepwater Sculpin density and biomass density estimates declined from the previous year. The 2013 abundance and density estimates for trawls covering the standard depths from 60m to 150m was 0.0001 fish per square meter and 0.0028 grams per square meter. In 2013, very few small (< 80 mm) Deepwater Sculpin were caught and most sculpin were at sites of 150 meters or greater, which is in contrast to previous years when juvenile fish were caught around 80-100 meters. The reduced effort and late seasonal timing of the 2013 assessment make it difficult to have high confidence in declines observed in 2013, however observed Alewife Alosa psuedoharengus abundance increases and reduced juvenile Deepwater Sculpin catches are consistent with the hypothesis that Alewife negatively influence Deepwater Sculpin recruitment.

Nonnative Round Gobies were first detected in the USGS/NYSDEC Lake Ontario spring Alewife assessment in 2002. Since that assessment, observations indicate their population has expanded and they are now found along the entire south shore of Lake Ontario, with the highest densities in U.S. waters just east of the Niagara River confluence. In the 2013 spring-based assessment, both the abundance and weight indices increased slightly as compared to 2012. The number index value of 16.6 was 30% of the maximum number observed in 2008 when the number index was 95.2. Round Goby density estimates from the 2013 fall benthic prey fish survey were 33 times greater than fall Slimy Sculpin density, indicating Round Goby are now the dominant Lake Ontario benthic prey fish.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype State/Local Government Series
Title Benthic prey fish assessment, Lake Ontario 2013
Series title NYSDEC Lake Ontario Annual Report
Series number 2013
Chapter 12
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Publisher location Albany, NY
Contributing office(s) Great Lakes Science Center
Description 9 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype State/Local Government Series
Larger Work Title 2013 Annual report: Bureau of Fisheries, Lake Ontario unit and St. Lawrence River unit, to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Lake Ontario Committee
First page 12-16
Last page 12-24
Conference Title Lake Ontario Committee Meeting
Conference Location Windsor, ON
Conference Date March 26-27, 2014
Country Canada, United States
Other Geospatial Lake Ontario