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Lake Ontario April prey fish survey results and Alewife assessment, 2023

October 1, 2023

The April bottom trawl survey and Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus population assessment provides science to inform Lake Ontario fisheries management. The 2023 survey included 215 trawls in the main lake and embayments, and sampled depths from 6.5 to 252 m (21-833 ft). The survey captured 1,012,178 fish from 32 species with a total weight of 12,136 kg (26,700 lbs.). Alewife were 92% of the catch by number while Rainbow Smelt, Osmerus mordax, Deepwater Sculpin, Myoxocephalus thompsonii, and Round Goby, Neogobius melanostomus, comprised 3%, 3%, and 1% of the catch, respectively. To improve the accuracy of prey fish biomass and density estimates we reanalyzed trawl sensor data from each of three participating survey vessels and created vessel-specific relationships predicting how bottom trawl bottom contact time, wing width, and area-swept varies with depth.

Total Alewife biomass increased in 2023 due to growth and survival of the abundant 2020 year class (now age-3) and an abundant 2022 year class (age-1). The 2023 mean Alewife biomass (81.1 kg·ha-1) was the largest since whole lake sampling began in 2016 and was the ninth largest value observed in the modern time series (1997-2023, maximum value in 2000 = 91.8 kg·ha-1). The 2023 Alewife density (6795 n·ha-1) was the greatest density observed in the modern time series. These high biomass and density values are due to above average Alewife reproductive success in 2020 and 2022. Simulation modeling suggests the 2024 and 2025 Alewife biomass index may be substantially higher than the 2023 observations.

In 2023, the Rainbow Smelt biomass index increased relative to the 2022 index, as did the biomass index for Cisco, Coregonus artedi. In contrast, Emerald Shiner Notropis atherinoides and Threespine Stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, biomass values continue to be low (< 0.01 kg·ha-1). Three Bloater Coregonus hoyi, were captured during the 2023 survey. Hydroacoustic sampling conducted during the bottom trawl survey estimated prey fish densities in pelagic habitats not sampled by the bottom trawl (3 m below the surface to 3 m above the lake bottom) and these densities were hundreds to thousands of times lower than bottom trawl-based densities. These results support the idea that, in April, when the warmest water is on the lake bottom, Alewife and most other pelagic prey fish are near the lake bottom and can be effectively sampled with bottom trawling.

Publication Year 2023
Title Lake Ontario April prey fish survey results and Alewife assessment, 2023
Authors Brian C. Weidel, Jessica Goretzke, Jeremy Holden, Olivia Margaret Mitchinson, Scott P. Minihkeim
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Index ID 70249606
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center