Results of the collaborative Lake Ontario bloater restoration stocking and assessment, 2012–2020

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Journal of Great Lakes Research


Bloater, Bottom trawl, Coregonus hoyi, Lake Ontario, Reestablishment, Restoration


Bloater, Coregonus hoyi, are deepwater planktivores native to the Laurentian Great Lakes and Lake Nipigon. Interpretations of commercial fishery time series suggest they were common in Lake Ontario through the early 1900s but by the 1950s were no longer captured by commercial fishers. Annual bottom trawl surveys that began in 1978 and sampled extensively across putative bloater habitat only yielded one individual (1983), suggesting that the species had been locally extirpated. In 2012, a multiagency restoration program stocked bloater into Lake Ontario from gametes collected in Lake Michigan. From 2012 to 2020, 1,028,191 bloater were stocked into Lake Ontario. Bottom trawl surveys first detected stocked fish in 2015, and through 2020 ten bloater have been caught (total length mean = 129 mm, s.d. = 44 mm, range: 96–240 mm). Hatchery applied marks and genetic analyses confirmed the species identification and identified stocking location for some individuals. Trawl capture locations and acoustic telemetry suggested that stocked fish dispersed throughout the main lake within months or sooner, and stocking and depth distribution was similar to historic distributions in Lake Ontario and other Great Lakes. Predicted bloater trawl catches, based on modeled population abundance and trawl survey efficiency, were similar to observed catches, suggesting that post-stocking survival is less than 20% and contemporary bottom trawl surveys can quantify bloater abundance at low densities and track restoration.