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Sub-indicator: Prey fish

January 1, 2017

Prey fish communities across the Great Lakes continue to change, although the direction and magnitude of those changes are not consistent across the lakes. The metrics used to categorize prey fish status in this and previous periods are based on elements that are common among each of the lake’s Fish Community Objectives and include diversity and the relative role of native species in the prey fish communities. The diversity index categorized three of lakes as ‘fair’, while Superior and Erie were ‘good’ (Table 1). The short term trend, from the previous period (2008-2010) to the current period (2011-2014) found diversity in Erie and Superior to be unchanging, but the other three lakes to be ‘deteriorating’, resulting in an overall trend categorization of ‘undetermined’ (Table 1). The long term diversity trend suggested Lakes Superior and Erie have the most diverse prey communities although the index for those prey fish have been quite variable over time (Figure 1). In Lake Huron, where non-native alewife have substantially declined, the diversity index has also declined. The continued dominance of alewife in Lake Ontario (96% of the prey fish biomass) resulted in the lowest diversity index value (Figure 1). The proportion of native species within the community was judged as ‘good’ in Lakes Superior and Huron, ‘fair’ in Michigan and Erie and ‘poor’ in Ontario (Table 2). The short term trend was improving in in all lakes except Michigan (‘deteriorating’) and Ontario (‘unchanging’), resulting in an overall short term trend of ‘undetermined’ (Table 2). Over the current period, Lake Superior consistently had the highest proportion native prey fish (87%) while Lake Ontario had the lowest (1%) (Figure 2). Lake Michigan’s percent native has declined as round goby increase and comprises a greater proportion of the community. Native prey fish make up 51% of Lake Erie, although basin-specific values differed (Figure 2). Most notably, native species in Lake Huron comprised less than 10% of the community in 1970, but since alewife have declined, now represent nearly 80% of the community (Figure 2). Prey fish data are most consistent for in-lake populations, which are reported here; data from connecting channels was not consistently available across the basin. Abundance was not used to judge prey fish status since successful, basin-wide management actions, including mineral nutrient input reductions and piscivore restoration, both inherently reduce prey fish abundance. However, recent abundance trends as they relate to predator prey balance are referenced, such as in Lakes Michigan and Huron where piscivore stocking is being reduced to lower predation demand on prey fish populations and maintain sport fisheries.

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