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State of Lake Superior ecosystem in 2017

February 26, 2021

This report describes the status of fish species and their habitat in Lake Superior during the reporting period of 2012-2016 in response to achievement of fish community objectives (FCOs) established by fishery managers for the lake. The overarching goal for the FCOs continued to be met as the fish community remained diverse, self-regulating, dominated by indigenous species, and able to support sustainable fisheries, although further rehabilitation of certain fish is required. The Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan classified all habitat indicators for Lake Superior as good. Primary production and zooplankton abundance were stable during the reporting period and unchanged from the two previous reporting periods, indicating the lower food web is healthy. Abundance of the invertebrates Mysis diluviana and Diporeia spp. were stable during the reporting period, and Diporeia spp. density exceeded target levels defined in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) abundance was lower than during the previous reporting period but was within the FCO target. Abundance of lean, siscowet, and humper forms of Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) remained stable at levels seen in previous reporting periods. The FCO for non-indigenous salmonids was met as Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Coho Salmon (O. kisutch), and steelhead/Rainbow Trout (O. mykiss) were being sustained by natural reproduction, and their abundance remained stable or increased from previous reporting periods. The FCO for Walleye (Sander vitreus) was not met, although populations showed signs of improvement since the previous reporting period. The fish community in littoral areas and embayments continued to be diverse and composed mostly of indigenous species. No new invasive species were found in Lake Superior during the reporting period. Degraded embayment and tributary habitats continued to prevent achievement of the FCOs for Brook Trout (S. fontinalis) and Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). Barriers created for hydroelectric generation either blocked Lake Sturgeon from historically important spawning grounds or reduced stream flows necessary for its reproduction. In tributaries without man-made barriers, Lake Sturgeon was relatively abundant and appeared healthy. Attainment of the FCOs for Brook Trout and Lake Sturgeon will be challenging and can only be attained through development of large-scale management actions like those implemented for Lake Trout rehabilitation and Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) control. Sea Lamprey-control expenditures doubled in 2016 from past levels and should result in suppression of the population closer to its FCO after 2016. The prey-fish FCO appears to have been met, but biomass of nearly all prey-fish species declined from that reported for the previous reporting period and has been on a downward trajectory since 2000. Predation by Lake Trout is probably to blame for the declining biomass of prey fish. Poor recruitment by Cisco (C. artedi) over the last 15 years is exacerbating the declines in prey-fish biomass because Lake Trout must compensate for the loss of Cisco by consuming other, less-abundant prey fish.

Publication Year 2021
Title State of Lake Superior ecosystem in 2017
Authors Bryan G. Matthias, Thomas R. Hrabik, Joel C. Hoffman, Owen Gorman, Mike J Seider, Michael E. Sierszen, Mark Vinson, Daniel Yule, Peder M. Yurista
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Index ID 70220263
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center