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Survey of fish communities in tributaries to the Mohawk River, New York, 2019

January 24, 2023

Fish communities of the Mohawk River and associated sections of the New York State Canal System have been well documented but little information is available regarding the status of fish communities in the extensive network of tributaries that feed the Mohawk River. This lack of information is problematic because changes in species distributions or general ecosystem health may go unnoticed in the absence of baseline data. The need for baseline information has been made particularly urgent by the recent establishment of a high-profile invasive fish species in the mainstem of the Mohawk River, the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus). Round goby can adversely affect aquatic ecosystems in numerous ways and are able to colonize streams in addition to large rivers and lakes. This potential threat to the aquatic ecosystem, therefore, has created an urgent need to quantify the distribution and abundance of fish species inhabiting tributaries to the Mohawk River before round goby can begin colonizing these habitats. In response, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mohawk River Basin Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation initiated a study in 2019 to collect quantitative information on fish communities and stream habitats in tributaries to the Mohawk River that could be used in the future to determine the effects of round goby on local fish assemblages and identify substrate and other habitat characteristics that facilitate or inhibit colonization by round goby.

Fish communities were surveyed at 20 sites on tributaries to the Mohawk River during summer 2019, using three-pass depletion backpack electrofishing surveys. The resulting data were used to produce quantitative estimates of fish population density and biomass for all species at each site. A total of 11,794 individual fish and 37 species were captured during the 20 surveys. Longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae), white sucker (Catostomus commersonii), blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus), fantail darter (Etheostoma flabellare), and creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus) were the most frequently encountered species, occurring at 18, 18, 17, 17, and 16 of the 20 sites, respectively. Six darter species, small bottom-dwelling fish that are highly vulnerable to displacement by round goby, were captured during the surveys, and at least one darter species was captured at all but one of the sites. Round goby were only captured at one site, Ninemile Creek near Rome, New York, where they occurred at a low density. Overall, the results indicated that round goby had not extensively colonized tributaries to the Mohawk River as of 2019, and the suite of data collected in this project should serve as a valuable baseline for future assessments of the effects of round goby and other stressors on aquatic ecosystems.

Publication Year 2023
Title Survey of fish communities in tributaries to the Mohawk River, New York, 2019
DOI 10.3133/sir20225121
Authors Scott D. George, Dylan R. Winterhalter, Barry P. Baldigo
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5121
Index ID sir20225121
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center