Development of a fish-based index for the assessment of the ecological status of Lake Balaton in the absence of present day reference condition.
A fish-based index is proposed to indicate the ecological status of Lake Balaton, Hungary in accordance with the standard of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD). The Balaton fish index (BFI) synthetises information of 13 lake-specific fish metrics including gillnetting and electric fishing data of species richness of native assemblages, relative abundance, biomass and age structure of native key species, representation of non-native species and general health status. The main anthropogenic pressures considered were the degradation of littoral habitats, invasion of non-native fish species, eutrophication and fishing/angling including stocking. Ecological quality ratio (EQR) is assessed by relating actual fish assemblage metrics to the supposed undisturbed reference status of Lake Balaton reconstructed by expert judgement based on recent and historic information on the fish fauna and its changes. Values of BFI were consistent and indicated good ecological status of Lake Balaton in the period of 2005-2018. This study provides an example on how an EQR assessment methodology might be established in unique habitats with no possibilities for statistical evaluation of pressure-respond relationships and exact determination of the reference status.