Aquatic Native Species and Habitat Restoration: Quantifying Coregonine Habitat Use Dynamics

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Restoring and maintaining extent of native coregonid populations in the Great Lakes is a basin-wide priority. In response, an adaptive framework has identified knowledge gaps associated with spatial dynamics and stock diversity. This project used the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) with an incredible in-kind support from agencies and universities from across the region to attain lake-wide observations on larval and spawning coregonines. Analyses will identify geomorphic, biotic, and abiotic factors that explain observed variability in coregonine habitat use at whole-lake scale, ultimately helping to guide restoration actions.

Human activities have greatly impacted fish populations in the Great Lakes, including various Coregonus species such as deepwater cisco (e.g. bloater (Coregonus hoyi) and lake herring (Coregonus. artedi). The USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are leading a multi-agency effort to restore Great Lakes coregonids. This extensive multi-year challenge has several key objectives including: (1) developing a Strategic Conservation Plan that defines restoration priorities for all the Great Lakes; (2) describing distinct populations segments and habitats of potential source populations; (3) establish monitoring for selected performance indicators; (4) develop science support for regional networks of coregonid rearing facilities; and (5) developing underlying science for understanding critical ecological relationships for Great Lakes coregonids and determining potential causes of failure of larval and juvenile fish to grow and mature within existing populations.

Coregonids have historically played a critical role in Great Lakes food webs. Deepwater ciscoes (for example bloater and kiyi) connect benthic (habitat associated with the bottom of the lake) and pelagic (habitat associated with open water of the lake) food webs through daily vertical migrations, whereas lake herring transfer energy horizontally between nearshore and offshore communities during spawning migrations. Current food web changes may make the Great Lakes more hospitable to coregonids, thereby creating a unique opportunity to pursue their restoration. Reduced pelagic productivity and increased benthic biomass enhance the role of coregonids in energy transfer, thereby reducing nonnative alewife and rainbow smelt populations and increasing the probability that coregonids could fill a bentho-pelagic offshore niche (Bronte, 2017).

Image: Maureen Walsh with cisco (Lake herring)

USGS GLSC biologist Dr. Maureen Walsh holding a lake herring caught in assessment sampling on Lake Ontario aboard the R/V Kaho.

(Credit: Brian Weidel, USGS. Public domain.)


Bronte, C.R., Bunnell, D.B., David, S.R., Gordon, Roger, Gorsky, Dimitry, Millard, M.J., Read, Jennifer, Stein, R.A., and Vaccaro, Lynn, 2017, Report from the Workshop on Coregonine Restoration Science: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017–1081, 23 p.,



  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) – Cape Vincent: field support and planning support from co-lead Michael Connerton
  • NYSDEC – Region 9: 3 weeks of in-kind field support collecting samples in the Niagara River and Olcott region
  • NYSDEC – Region 8: 3 weeks of in-kind field support collecting samples in embayments along the southern shore of Lake Ontario
  • NYSDEC – Region 7: 3 weeks of in-kind field support collecting samples in embayments along the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario and embayments
  • NYSDEC – Region 6: 3 weeks of in-kind field support collecting samples in embayments along the eastern shore and embayments of Lake Ontario
  • Native Fishes group from USFWS, Lower Great Lakes office – 5 weeks of in-kind field support and planning support from co-lead Dr. Dimitry Gorsky.
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) Glenora Office – 5 weeks of in-kind field support sampling throughout the Bay of Quinte and planning support from co-lead Jeremy Holden.
  • Queens University – 2 weeks of in-kind field support sampling Kingston area of Lake Ontario
  • DFO – 3 weeks of in-kind support for field sampling in Hamilton Harbor and Toronto Region
  • Cornell University – MS Graduate student Taylor Brown, advised by Suresh Sethi, Lars Rudstam and Brian Weidel is analyzing data.  This project is the basis for her MS work.