Lake whitefish relative abundance, length-at-age, and condition in Lake Michigan as indicated by fishery-independent surveys

Robin L. DeBruyne, Tracy L. Galarowicz, Randall M. Claramunt, David F. Clapp

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29 Scopus citations


In the mid 1990s, growth and condition of lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) declined within commercial catches in Lake Michigan. However, underlying mechanisms responsible for the declines have not been thoroughly explored. Using fishery-independent survey data, we examined growth and relative abundance of adult whitefish over historical (1980-1990) and recent (1996-2005) time periods in three regions of Lake Michigan: north, mid, and south. Relative abundance was assessed from catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) of independent surveys, and changes in growth conditions were evaluated using size-at-age estimates. Relative abundance increased in the mid and south regions between the two time periods and decreased in the north region. Length-at-age significantly declined between the two time periods in the north, mid, and south regions; the north region consistently had the lowest length-at-age. Condition also declined between the two time periods in each region. The decline in growth and condition coupled with increases in relative abundance suggest density-dependent mechanisms are contributing to the observed population changes in the south region. The north region does not appear to be regulated by density, suggesting density-independent mechanisms, such as food web changes, are influencing stocks. Changes in the mid region are likely from a mixture of increased lake whitefish abundance and food web changes. Using fishery-independent population data, our results suggest that multiple factors are potentially contributing differentially within three Lake Michigan regions to cause similar declines in length-at-age and condition of whitefish. These factors (e.g., food web changes, lake whitefish density) should be considered when managing the commercial fishery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-244
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008


  • Fishery-independent survey
  • Growth
  • Lake whitefish
  • Relative abundance


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