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DEC Prelim Alewife Assessment

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Anybody else concerned by this?


June 1, 2016
Lake Ontario Stakeholders:
Maintaining the Lake Ontario trophy Chinook salmon fishery depends on having sufficient numbers of
alewife to feed them and maintain good Chinook growth. A recordâ€high year class of alewife was
produced in 2012 (the 2012 “year classâ€), however, reduced survival of the 2012 year class did not
increase the adult population as managers expected in 2014 when these fish reached age 2. The two
severe winters/cool summers of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 resulted in very poor 2013 and 2014 alewife
year classes, and the 2012 alewife year class likely makes up the majority of the current adult alewife
population in Lake Ontario. The Lake Ontario Committee (“LOCâ€: Steve LaPan representing the NYS
Department of Environmental Conservation [NYSDEC] and Andy Todd representing the Ontario Ministry
of Natural Resources and Forestry [OMNRF]) is concerned that without young alewife to replace the
adults that are eaten, there may not be sufficient alewife numbers to support trophy Chinook salmon in
a few years.
The preliminary results of the spring 2016 bottom trawl survey for alewife conducted by the NYSDEC, the
U.S. Geological Survey appear below. Since this is the first year that OMNRF staff conducted alewife
trawling, there are no comparable data to compare it to. The NYSDEC/USGS survey provides an index of
relative abundance (i.e. how this year’s catch compares to other years; it is not an estimate of actual
numbers of alewife in the lake) of both the adult alewife population (fish age 2 and older) and 1 year old
or “yearling†alewife (i.e. those fish that were spawned in 2015, or the 2015 “year classâ€). In Figure 1,
please note that adult alewife abundance index declined markedly from 2015 to 2016. Also, the estimate
of the relative size of the 2015 alewife year class (i.e. the bar for 2016 in Figure 2) measured at age 1 is
well below the 1994â€2015 average. Since these fish will contribute to the adult population next year when
they are age 2, the LOC does not expect a marked improvement in the adult population in 2017. Our
science staff will continue their analyses of these data, and will develop projections of relative alewife
abundance in 2017 and beyond.
The LOC’s current concerns are not related to adult alewife abundance in 2016; we will not be surprised
if fishing is excellent in 2016, and Chinook size is good as well. Our concerns surround the adult alewife
spawning population in 2017 and beyond. Since a large portion of the adult alewife population should be
composed of fish ages 3 †5, the LOC expects several years in the immediate future when the size of the
alewife population will be greatly reduced. The LOC has asked the Lake Ontario Technical Committee to
work together and provide the LOC with an assessment of the relative risks associated with a range of
management options this summer.
Best regards,
Steve LaPan, Great Lakes Section Head, NYSDEC
Andy Todd, Manager, Lake Ontario Management Unit, OMNRF
Figure 1. Relative adult alewife (ageâ€2 and older) abundance index (average number caught per 10â€
minute trawl tow) in the U.S. waters of Lake Ontario during late April – early May, 1978â€2016.
Figure 2. Abundance index (average catch per 10â€minute trawl tow) for yearling (ageâ€1) Alewife in the
U.S. waters of Lake Ontario during late April – early May, 1978â€2016.

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As noted in your post, 2013/14 & 2014/15 were very cold winters and this low count should be expected. All I can say is for everyone to catch lots of fish so they don't eat all the Alewives

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I realize the alewives are the primary forage for trout and salmon in the lake but I am wondering if there could end up being added pressure on other baitfish species or if other species could actually do better with less competition from the alewives, and therefore help fill the gap.

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Where did you get this? I can't seem to find it. Would love to see the graphics for one

If you send my ur email I can send it to you tomorrow morning when I get into work.

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We are not going to have an alewife deficiency. We are more likely in the coming years to go back to too many alewives

I agree Gill-T. I am completely confident that we are headed to problematic excess alewives, especially with another normal to mild winter.

It deeply concerns me that once again we are seeing a "rush to judgement" and the Kings are the "big bad wolf", and not the savior that they truly are. The reluctance to admit or discuss the predation by Lake Trout all across the Great Lakes is the telling part.

We are now not only seeing the giant old alewife in the fish, but also last years hatch as well.

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Steve LaPan is a great guy.... And a very bright biologist and avid angler. He has spent a career protecting the game fish and waters of Lake O and the St Lawrence River. The findings in this report are steeped in data meant to benefit the health of our game fish and their food supply. My thought is.... How can we help??

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I'd say it's safe to say we've caught a few fish this year, and here's what I'm seeing. I'm always checking stomach contents because I clean fish on my boat. Mature Salmon will have 0-7 adult Alewife in their stomachs. I haven't seen any pics on social media where a Salmon looked unhealthy. A lot of 20+ salmon have been caught this Spring. Especially, in Canada where a 31 and a 29 have been taken.


This is what I'm seeing in the Lake Trout we're catching!


10-20+ Alewife in every stomach I check. All year classes as well. So, I'd like to know why just the "Salmon" are the problem?

Sent from my XT1575 using Lake Ontario United mobile app

Edited by Yankee Troller
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The amount of alewife in the lake trouts stomach this year especially has amazed me. When the lake trout were shallow they had mixed stomachs now it's just alewifes and tons of them

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I'm gonna start treating lakers like gobies, eels and comorants........

Probably not a bad idea, maybe if everyone starts doing that just maybe the DEC will get the hint and cut the numbers they are stocking. and yeah I know never going to happen but I can dream plus would anyone notice if they cut lake trout stocking in half.

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Remember its the Fed's flooding the lake with Lake Trout not the DEC's decision.  Fed's want everything back to original fisheries natural state and trump what states want.  Feds pay for and push lakers and Atlantics.  NY state handles rest of Salmoniods.

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Been saying this for yrs....the federal government  keeps putting in millions of Lake trout...taking food away from our king salmon....nobody wants yo listen !!! this is why i don't believe the pen rearing is anything but a waste of our time....and the states money !!!! time for a serious change...or we will end up like Lake Michigan !!!

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I don't think it is that simple that the Feds want lakers. They want Atlantics and yet we stock very little on our side. I think it may speak to a bigger issue of getting federal dollars to run our hatchery programs that stock in all our waterways. If NY wanted to reduce laker stocking and favor kings they could but federal dollars would be left on the table. I am sure all lake trout stocked in NY benefit from federal funds so not just a Lake Ontario issue. One issue is they are bound by making decisions based on the scientific data they collect. There is no foresight as to looking at future weather patterns. With alewife survival in Lake Ontario water temps are one of the biggest determiner of survival and size of the hatch of YOY. For every sixteen degrees in water temp the productivity of the plankton community doubles. I would like to see the DEC use weather projections as part of the formula determining stocking numbers.

Edited by Gill-T
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This year should actually set up nicely for next year's yoy class. The temp is much warmer so far. Not sure where the did their trawls, but I observed a bunch of schools of yoy alewives patrolling the shoreline in front of my cottage the last month or so, usually in 10 fow or less. And I know they are yoy as I was able to net a few. And the 2012 class is at prime breeding age so maybe this year's class will be big? The conditions appear to be right, so all we can do is hope...

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The problem with the current trawling methodology is that they assume a random distribution not only in the water column but laterally as well.  I realize they have the hydra-acoustical but, really, how far out does that scan from the trawler?  Bait is usually in a tight pod and you may have to go 1/4 mile to see another pod. This year I've seen "mountains" of them.  I'd like to see/hear the reasoning/math behind the random distribution theory. 


Tom B.


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They are statistics...logical math behind the numbers. You can disagree with statistical math. I'm just saying.

One bait pod equals another. Logical bell curve..take enough samples to make it statistical significant to the numbers you find.

Just read the report graphs were actual numbers not estimate.

Edited by Ryno23
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No one is arguing statistical math.  No doubt their arithmetic is correct.  The argument is that they take Northward 10 minute trawls with a net that is not all that wide.  At 3 mph, that's only about 1/2 mile and off Rochester will definitely not cover 30 to 400 FOW.


My argument is that I troll basically a N-S zig zag with an E-W spread of about 1 to 1 1/2 miles with a typical Saturday troll total of 17-20 miles.  Last year I saw very few pods while major numbers were reported off Niagara.  This year I've never seen so many pods.


My conclusion is that they are not randomly distributed around the lake.  

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