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GLIN==> Press release: NY Sea Grant Issues 1st Independent Review of Forage Assessment Programs on Great Lakes

Submitted by Kara Dunn <karalynn@gisco.net>

Contact: David B. MacNeill, Fisheries Specialist, NY Sea Grant, 315-312-3042

NY Sea Grant Issues Results of First Independent Review of Forage Assessment Programs on the Great Lakes

Oswego, NY - NY Sea Grant has issued the first independent review of an agency-driven assessment program on the Great Lakes - a technical review of the Lake Ontario forage base assessment programs. In response to the concerns of recreational and commercial fisheries stakeholders, NYS Senator George Maziarz requested New York Sea Grant to organize the objective review of the US Geological Survey and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation programs that measure the fish populations and state of the freshwater ecosystem in Lake Ontario.

"This review verified the credibility of the assessment program and made valuable recommendations that have improved the programs," says author and fisheries specialist David B. MacNeill of New York Sea Grant's Great Lakes Program.

MacNeill says the panel's recommendations suggest sampling techniques, statistical and simulation models, software and gear that can be used to improve the precision of forage counts and the accuracy of forecasting of future fish population trends.

Among the recommendations already undertaken is hydroacoustic sampling, made possible by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, of the alewife population. A similar examination of the rainbow smelt population is expected to take place this year. Hydroacoustic sampling uses sound waves to measure fish populations without disturbing the fish.

New York Sea Grant coordinated a meeting of fisheries representatives from the US Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Cornell University and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. That group invited three independent experts: Dr. Jerry Ault of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami, Dr. Steve Murawski of the National Marine Fisheries Service at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Steven Smith of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Halifax, Nova Scotia, to assess the sampling programs administered by USGS and NYSDEC. Dr. Lisa Kline of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in Washington, DC, facilitated a workshop with fisheries managers and researchers to review the panel's findings.

"A Technical Review of the Lake Ontario Forage Base Assessment Program can be read online at www.nyseagrant.org/glfish/forageassess05/pdf.# # #

Quick Facts:
... The Lake Ontario forage base assessment program is primarily a bottom-trawling effort conducted jointly by the US Geological Survey and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

. The proliferation of zebra mussel beds on the bottom of Lake Ontario in the mid-1990s hindered assessment efforts by clogging trawls.

... The Lake Ontario ecosystem has undergone dramatic changes -ascribed to the influence of nuisance species introduction and nutrient abatement. Changes include alteration of fish distribution in the lake.

... There is no trawl survey for the Canadian side of the lake.

... Lake Ontario salmonine stocking policy is developed from information on hatchery-return rates, angler-catch data, forage base abundance and biomass trends.

... July 2002 USGS data showed that Lake Ontario's rainbow smelt population is at or near collapse, leaving the forage base for salmonines largely alewives. In 2005, the assessment program is expected to use hydroacousting sampling to assess the rainbow smelt population. The use of hydroacoustic sampling was a recommendation of the expert reviewers brought together for the independent review of the Lake Ontario forage base assessment program.

... Lake Ontario is the world's 14th largest lake (193' long x 53' wide, maximum depth 802', water surface area: 7,340 square miles)
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