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Lake Ontario April prey fish survey results and Alewife assessment, 2022

June 1, 2022

The annual Lake Ontario April bottom trawl survey and Alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, population assessment provide science to inform management decisions related to predator-prey balance and fish community dynamics. The 2022 survey was conducted from March 31 to April 26, included 235 trawls in the main lake and embayments, and sampled depths from 5 to 219 m (16 – 723 ft). The survey captured 311,770 fish from 30 species with a total weight of 7,740 kg (17,028 lbs.). Alewife were 85% of the catch by number while Rainbow Smelt, Osmerus mordax, Round Goby, Neogobius melanostomus, and Deepwater Sculpin, Myoxocephalus thompsonii, comprised 6%, 4%, and 4% of the catch, respectively. The 2022 biomass index for Rainbow Smelt decreased 80% relative to the high values observed in 2021 as did the value for Cisco, Coregonus artedi, (46% decline). Emerald Shiner, Notropis atherinoides, biomass index increased in 2021 and Threespine Stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, biomass remained low. No Bloater, Coregonus hoyi, were captured during the 2022 survey.

In 2022, Alewife biomass in U.S. waters (58.1 kilograms per hectare, kg·ha-1) was substantially higher than Canadian waters (26.3 kg·ha-1). The 2022 Alewife biomass index (41.6 kg·ha-1) decreased 10% from 2021 while the 2022 density index decreased 62% from 2021. Prediction modeling indicated the growth of the abundant 2020 Alewife year class, sampled as age-1 fish in 2021, would cause the adult Alewife biomass to increase in 2022. Although the adult Alewife biomass did increase relative to 2021 (61%), the increase was lower than predicted. The difference between the predictions and observations was because survival of age-1 fish from 2021 to 2022 was lower than had previously been observed. In the three previous years of observations the proportion of age-1 Alewife surviving to age 2 ranged from 0.33 to 0.53; however, that proportion was only 0.21 from 2021 to 2022. Survival estimates of Alewife age-5 through age-8 were higher than previously observed, possibly because salmonid predation focused on the abundant younger Alewife. The catch of age-1 Alewife in 2022, which is a measure of reproductive success in 2021, was below average and similar to the abundances of the 2018 and 2019 year classes. Simulation modeling results indicated the adult Alewife biomass is likely to increase slightly in 2023, whereas predictions for 2024 are less certain.

Hydroacoustic sampling was used to estimate prey fish densities in open-water, pelagic habitats not sampled by the bottom trawl. Bottom trawl-based densities from the lake bottom were at least 25 times greater than densities of prey fish in the water column above the trawl. These results support the idea that, in April, when the warmest, most dense water is on the lake bottom, Alewife and most other pelagic prey fish primarily inhabit deep, near bottom habitats and can be effectively sampled with bottom trawling.

Publication Year 2022
Title Lake Ontario April prey fish survey results and Alewife assessment, 2022
Authors Brian C. Weidel, Lee F G Gutowsky, Jessica Goretzke, Jeremy Holden, Scott P. Minihkeim
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70236749
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center