Synchronous decline of three morphologically distinct whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) stocks in Lake Oulujärvi with concurrent changes in the fish community

Vainikka, A., Jakubaviciute, E & Hyvärinen P.

Identification of ecologically mediated mechanisms that drive population dynamical changes in fish communities and polymorphic fish stocks such as those of whitefish, Coregonus lavaretus, requires data that are seldom available in freshwater systems. We assessed the stock of each morphologically distinguishable whitefish form (native lesser sparsely-rakered whitefish, native blue whitefish and stocked northern densely-rakered whitefish) in the Lake Oulujärvi during 1973-2014, and related temporal variations in population dynamics to environmental data and catch per unit of effort (CPUE) data on other species having fisheries significance. The results demonstrated a synchronous major decline in the abundance of the native whitefish forms and a decline in the length-at-age of all forms. During the study period, summer time water temperature increased and surface water phosphorous concentration decreased. Recruitment in all whitefish forms showed Ricker-type dependence on spawning stock biomass but little residual correlation with the environmental parameters. Cross-correlation analyses suggested that the re-establishment of pikeperch Sander lucioperca population affected negatively both the recruitment and biomass of whitefish but the exact effect mechanisms require further assessment. Our results exemplify that ecosystem-based fisheries management in inland waters must take into account both natural and human-induced environmental changes as well as stockings, and that knowledge-based inland fisheries management is inherently data-intensive.