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Status and trends of the Lake Huron offshore demersal fish community, 1976-2015

January 1, 2016

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center has conducted trawl surveys to assess annual changes in the offshore demersal fish community of Lake Huron since 1973. Sample sites include five ports in U.S. waters with less frequent sampling near Goderich, Ontario. The 2015 fall bottom trawl survey was carried out between 14 and 28 October and included all U.S. ports, as well as Goderich, ON. The 2015 main basin prey fish biomass estimate for Lake Huron was 19.4 kilotonnes, a decline of about 50 percent from 2014. This estimate is the second lowest in the time series, and is approximately 5 percent of the maximum estimate in the time series observed in 1987. No adult alewife were collected in 2015 and YOY alewife was the second lowest in the time series, up slightly from the record low in 2014. The estimated biomass of yearling and older rainbow smelt also decreased and was the lowest observed in the time series. Estimated adult bloater biomass in Lake Huron declined to about half of the 2014 estimate. YOY alewife, rainbow smelt, and bloater abundance and biomass decreased over 2014. Biomass estimates for deepwater sculpins declined while trout-perch and ninespine stickleback increased over 2014 values, but all remained low compared to historic estimates. The 2014 biomass estimate for round goby increased from 2014 but remains at only 7 percent of the maximum observed in 2003. Wild juvenile lake trout were captured again in 2015, suggesting that natural reproduction by lake trout continues to occur.