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Status and trends of the Lake Huron prey fish community, 1976-2021

January 1, 2023

The U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center has assessed annual changes in the offshore prey fish community of Lake Huron since 1973. Assessments are based on a bottom trawl survey conducted in October of each year and an acoustics-midwater trawl survey, which began in 2004 and is conducted in September-October. Due to weather delays and continued travel restrictions during 2021, there were no bottom trawl samples off the port of Goderich, Ontario and two acoustic transects were cancelled in Georgian Bay. Prey fish biomass in Lake Huron in 2021 was dominated by two species, Bloater (Coregonus hoyi) and Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax). In the main basin, prey fish biomass remained below levels observed prior to community-wide declines that began in the early to mid 1990s. Bloater was the most abundant prey fish species in the main basin, whereas Rainbow Smelt was the most abundant prey species in the North Channel and in Georgian Bay. Both surveys suggested that Bloater biomass is increasing in the main basin. Low biomass of invasive species like Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and Rainbow Smelt is consistent with fish community objectives focused on restoration of native fish communities. Abundance of invasive Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus) increased in 2021 relative to 2019-2020. Biomass of the native Cisco (Coregonus artedi) increased in the North Channel in 2021 but remained low in Georgian Bay, possibly as an artifact of reduced sampling. Biomass of Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus) and Deepwater Sculpin (Myoxocephalus thompsoni) in 2021 remained low but within the range observed over the past decade. Reduced lake productivity, predation by a recovering piscivore community, and shifts in food web dynamics that favor fish production in nearshore environments may prevent prey fish biomass in offshore areas from returning to levels observed prior to the early 1990s. However, increased biomass of Bloater and Cisco suggests that lake conditions may favor recovery of native corgonines.

Publication Year 2023
Title Status and trends of the Lake Huron prey fish community, 1976-2021
Authors Timothy P. O'Brien, Darryl W. Hondorp, Peter C. Esselman, Edward F. Roseman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Index ID 70234748
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center