An evaluation of the potential forage fish populations in Indiana waters of Lake Michigan, 1973 vs. 1984-86

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McKeag, Kevin J.
McComish, Thomas S. (Thomas Sherman), 1938-
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The potential near-shore forage fish populations were investigated by bottom trawling during the months of June through August of 1984-86 in Lake Michigan, near Michigan City, Indiana. Data were collected on the six moat common species including: yellow perch (Perca flavescens); alewife (Aloes pseudoharenqus); rainbow smelt(Osmerus mordax); bloater (Coreaonus,hovi); spottail shiner (Notroois hudsonius); and trout-perch (Perconsis omiscomavcus). Results of the 1984-86 sampling period were compared with data for 1973 in an attempt to document changes in population density, species composition, annual catch, seasonal abundance, and population structure.The total trawl catch for all species increased nearly seven-fold since 1973 even though sample methods and collection effort were unchanged. A dramatic increase in yellow perch abundance was primarily responsible for the elevated levels sampled for all species from 1984-86.The species composition of the catch shifted since 1973. In 1973, spottail shiners were the most abundant species (41%) and trout-perch and alewives were the next most abundant species comprising 20% and 17% of the catch, respectively. Yellow perch, which comprised only 12% of the catch in 1973, increased to 81% of the catch in 1986. Bloater also showed a great increase in relative importance since 1973 when they were rare in the catch. Other species, including alewife, were relatively minor components of the total catch each year from 1984-86. The trawl catch results revealed that alewife and trout-perch declined 71% and 87%, respectively, comparing 1973 with 1984-86. During the same period, yellow perch increased 72-fold and bloater over 3000-fold. By comparison, the spottail shiner population was stable with no long-term changes, but rainbow smelt populations fluctuated widely.Seasonal abundance of adult fish (age I or older) generally decreased from June to August for each fish species and year sampled with the exception of yellow perch which peaked in July of 1973, and in August of 1985-86. Young-of-the-year fish were generally captured in late July and August.Population structure changes were evaluated by examining pooled length-frequency data. Yellow perch length-frequency distributions indicated that strong year classes were produced every year from 1983 to 1986. The 1985 year class was well over twice as large as any of the other years sampled. Spottail shiner and rainbow smelt length-frequency distributions remained approximately stable since 1973, while alewife length-frequency distributions fluctuated annually. Capture of bloaters was almost entirely limited to June, and consisted primarily of age I+ fish in 1984-86.These results reveal significant changes have occurred in the potential near-shore forage fish populations in Indiana waters of Lake Michigan since the early 1970's. Although several factors may be involved in the shifts noted, the major contributing factor is likely predator-prey interactions as a result of salmonid predator density.