Prey fish communities of the Laurentian Great Lakes: a cross-basin overview of status and trends based on bottom trawl surveys, 1978-2016.
Annual bottom trawl surveys were initiated in the 1970s in Laurentian Great Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan and Ontario and in 1990 in Erie to provide annual assessments of the status and trends of prey fish communities. Native Cisco Coregonus artedi and Bloater C. hoyi dominated the prey fish community of Lake Superior. Prey fish communities in lakes Huron and Michigan were dominated by nonnative Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax and Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus for much of 1978-2016, but Bloater was an important species during the 1980-1990s and more recently has become the dominant prey species in these lakes. Alewife dominated the prey fish community of Lake Ontario during all 1978-2016. While nonnatives dominated the prey fish community in Lake Erie, native Emerald Shiner Notropis atherinoides was an important species and occasionally the dominant prey fish after the establishment of Round Goby Neogobius melanostomus in the late 1990s. During the 1980s-1990s Bythotrephes cederstroemi, Dreissena polymorpha, and Dreissena bugensis caused profound changes in Laurentian Great Lakes ecosystems and likely contributed to declines in fish community biomass in lakes Michigan and Huron. The impacts of these invaders were more muted in lakes Erie and Ontario. Lake Superior stands out as the Laurentian Great Lakes success story: Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush was restored, and native prey fishes dominate and support a viable fishery. Although the abundance of Bloater has increased recently in lakes Huron and Michigan, recovery of native prey fishes remains uncertain. The absence of native species among the principal prey fish in Lake Ontario indicates a lack of progress in native fish recovery. Recovery of native prey fishes remains unclear in Lake Erie. The ever-changing state of the Laurentian Great Lakes caused by the impacts of invasive species and ongoing climate and ecosystem change will continue to challenge restoration of native fish communities in the 21st Century.