Identifying and characterizing coregonine spawning habitat in Lake Erie

Contributing Authors

Justin Chiotti (USFWS,, Edward Roseman (USGS), Robin DeBruyne (USGS), John Deller (ODNR), Jason Fischer (USFWS), Dimitry Gorsky (USFWS), Philippa Kohn (TNC), Tom MacDougall (OMNRF), James Markham (NYSDEC), Chris Olds (USFS), Wendylee Stott (DFO)

Project Description

Historically, Lake Erie supported large catches of Lake Whitefish and Cisco, but presently Cisco are considered extirpated and Lake Whitefish catch rates are highly variable (Oldenburg et al. 2007). For example, Lake Whitefish commercial harvest increased in the 1990’s and late 2000’s but have recently declined (Baldwin 2009; Coldwater Task Group 2020; Figure 1). While mechanisms driving Lake Whitefish recruitment dynamics are unclear, the population is often dominated by a single year class, suggesting that heavy losses during the egg and larval stage may be limiting recruitment in the system (Amidon et al. in press; Coldwater Task Group 2020). Identifying and characterizing coregonine spawning habitat will improve our understanding of factors limiting recruitment and restoration. Collections of coregonine sac fry larvae in the central and eastern basins (Schaefer et al. in press) and Lake Whitefish eggs in the western basin (Amidon et al. in press) suggest viable spawning locations exist in all three basins, but further field sampling is necessary to provide more insight into habitat use and factors influencing egg and larval survival. The proposed project will verify and describe contemporary coregonine spawning habitat in Lake Erie and the factors influencing spawning success in the central and eastern basins. As a result, three coregonine adaptive management framework priorities will be addressed including gap analysis, compilation of data to conduct population viability, and evaluation of restoration opportunities. Successful coregonine conservation and restoration in Lake Erie will depend on our knowledge of extant spawning areas, our ability to protect and/or restore these areas, and identifying factors limiting recruitment. The description and characterization of spawning areas can also be transferred to other lakes where early life history dynamics may be limiting recruitment.

Funded In

Funding Agency


Restoration Framework Phase

Project Impact



Project Subjects