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Thursday, December 20, 2012

New York to Stock Lake Herring in Lake Ontario

Until the mid 1950s, Lake Ontario was home to a diverse group of whitefish that included as many as seven species that occupied varying depths of the lake.

Only three species are known to remain, the lake whitefish, round whitefish and lake herring. The abundance and distribution of these species in the lake is now greatly reduced. Recently the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) re-introduced the bloater, a deep water form of whitefish, into Lake Ontario. Lake herring occupy and spawn in shallower water than the bloater, and spawn earlier in winter.

"We recognize the economic and ecological importance of Lake Ontario's fisheries," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. "Re-establishing spawning populations of lake herring in Lake Ontario will diversify the native prey fish community and add stability to the lake's ecosystem."

 Re-establishing self-sustaining populations of native whitefishes in Lake Ontario is the focus of cooperative efforts between DEC, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, with supporting research conducted by The Nature Conservancy.

Steelhead and salmon that feed primarily on invasive alewife can experience reproductive failure due to a vitamin B deficiency. Predators that feed on native species like lake herring and bloater are less likely to experience reproductive failure.

Michael Morencie, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Services Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, said, "Ontario has a strong commitment to restoring native species in Lake Ontario. This stocking event represents another pivotal benchmark in our efforts to restore native species diversity in the lake."

Lake herring were once an important prey fish in Lake Ontario, and supported important commercial fisheries that collapsed in the early 1950s largely due to over-harvest. In the New York waters of Lake Ontario, lake herring historically spawned in Irondequoit Bay, Sodus Bay, the Sandy Pond, and Chaumont Bay. Research has documented current lake herring spawning only occurs in Chaumont Bay.

Juvenile lake herring will be stocked this week that originated from eggs collected by DEC staff in Chaumont Bay during November and December 2011.

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