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Whitefish, Lake

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Harvest Method

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Variety

Lake whitefish

Coregonus clupeaformis

Method

Wild

Bottom gillnet, Trap net

Location

Canada (Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Superior) & US (Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan - Wisconsin and Michigan, Lake Superior - Michigan)

Overall Rating

2.8 - 3.4 / 5

Summary

Although once an abundant species, lake whitefish population levels decreased steeply in the mid-19th century due to overfishing and predation by exotic sea lamprey. However, recovery measures in the 1970’s have allowed the population to rebound. Lake whitefish are the dominant deepwater lakefish in the Great Lakes. They represent one of the third largest freshwater exports from Canada, and are sold primarily to the US. Lake whitefish have life history characteristics that make them moderately vulnerable to fishing pressure. Lake whitefish are the main target species in Lake Huron. The populations have been historically stable in Lake Superior Michigan. Although whitefish abundance is low in Lake Ontario, it is stable with low fishing mortality rates. Canadian Lake Huron populations are above the historical average. Overfishing by unlicensed fisheries in Canadian Lake Superior is of concern.

Management of the Great Lakes fisheries is shared between several organizational bodies, which collaborate under Lake Committees. Management is moderately effective; the various regulatory measures concern research, enforcement, stocking, quotas, water quality monitoring, stock assessments, and other issues.

Little bycatch occurs. Most non-target fish are retained and sold portside as they have commercial value.

Bottom gillnets and trap nets cause minimal habitat impacts. Although these fishing methods make contact with the substrate, they are immobile and do not cause physical destruction of the lake bottom.

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Variety

Round whitefish

Prosopium cylindraceum

Method

Wild

Gillnet, Trap net

Location

Great Lakes

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

The Round Whitefish is found in many of the Great Lakes but fishing occurs mostly in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Until this population information is gathered, it is impossible to determine whether this is a sustainable fishery.

Round Whitefish are early maturing and have high reproductive output. These life history characteristics make them inherently resilient to fishing pressure. These fisheries are not well monitored, therefore stock status is not known. Population abundance has not been assessed and it is also not known whether they are being or have been overfished. Fisheries Management in the Great Lakes restricts type, effort and placement of gear. Currently there are no catch limits for this species and stock assessments have not been done.

There is some concern over the incidental catches of important predator species such as lake trout and coho salmon; however, bycatch is thought to be quite low compared to total catch. The stationary gear used in this fishery has minimal impact on the lake habitats. The ecosystem effect of removing round whitefish is thought to be minimal but further research in this area is encouraged.

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Variety

Lake whitefish

Coregonus clupeaformis

Method

Wild

Bottom gillnet, Trap net

Location

Canada (Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis) & US (Lake Superior - Wisconsin)

Overall Rating

1.8 - 2.4 / 5

Summary

There are about 300 lakes that are commercially fished in Manitoba. The lake fish primarily caught in Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg and Lake Winnipegosis include walleye, lake whitefish, northern pike, and yellow perch. Canada and the US are the main markets for Manitoba-caught walleye and lake whitefish. Very little is known about the stock status of the species in any of the Manitoban lakes.

Lake whitefish have life history characteristics that make them moderately vulnerable to fishing pressure. Management of the Great Lakes fisheries is shared between several organizational bodies, which collaborate under Lake Committees. Although some data is collected, this information is not used to make management decisions. Harvest control rules are absent which impairs the ability to make informed harvesting decisions. Management also fails to address potentially high rates of bycatch.

Bycatch rate is largely unknown due to a lack of information. It is thought that sauger is a bycatch species in Lake Winnipeg and Lake Winnipegosis. Bycatch of sauger in Lake Winnipegosis is highly concerning because there is some evidence of a critically low stock level in this lake with no recovery in recent years.

Gillnets cause minimal amounts of habitat impact. However, the freshwater fish of Manitoba are keystone species. This means that their ecosystem function is disproportionately important compared to their biomass. It is highly concerning that their removal from the ecosystem is not monitored by scientific or management bodies.

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