Saturday, September 9, 2017

DEC: Endangered Adirondack Round Whitefish Recovering

Round WhitefishThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that Round Whitefish may soon be taken off New York’s list of endangered species and reclassified as threatened.

Fisheries biologists recently netted 15 Round Whitefish in Bug Lake of Hamilton County near Inlet. Six of these fish were second generation after stocking.

This will be the third water with offspring found after stocking. The first two include Trout Pond of St. Lawrence County and Evergreen Lake of Herkimer County.  DEC chose Bug Lake for stocking because it is a cold and clean lake which has provided a high-quality fishery for brook trout and lake trout.

Once fairly common throughout the Adirondacks, the round whitefish could be found in about 60 different lakes including Big Tupper, Piseco, Big Wolf, Raquette, Blue Mountain, Meacham, and the Fulton Chain. Many lakes were stocked with hatchery reared fry between 1886 and about 1904, but the consequences were uncertain. However, surveys conducted from 1985-1987 by New York State’s Division of Fish and Wildlife could only find round whitefish populations in six Adirondack water bodies. Surveys conducted before 1979 found them in only 14 waters and surveys between 1979 and 1997 found them in only nine. DEC has stocked a total of 19 waters in regions 5 and 6 since 2000.

Possible reasons for the decline in round whitefish populations include: predation by invading yellow perch on whitefish eggs and fry; predation by smallmouth bass; competition with lake whitefish; over-fishing; loss of spawning sites; siltation; and lake acidification. Some of these factors continue to pose a threat to remaining populations. Round whitefish are now protected from harvest or possession by the Endangered Species Law.

Round Whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceum) average about 8-12 inches in length and occasionally reach 22 inches. Their body shape is long and tubular with a nearly round midsection (hence its latin name). Its head is short and its mouth is small and inferior (snout extends beyond lower jaw). A single flap exists between the nostrils, distinguishing it from other whitefishes and ciscoes. The round whitefish is olive-brown on top shading to silver below. Young round whitefish have rows of black spots (called parr marks) similar to those of young trout and salmon.

Round whitefish spawn in the fall (November-December) over gravel shoals of lakes or at river mouths. The males arrive on the spawning grounds first. Eggs are broadcast over the shoals and hatch approximately 140 days later. The young reach 3-4.5 inches by the end of the first year of life. Both sexes become mature when they reach about 12 inches in length at age 3-4. Adult round whitefish rarely live longer than 13 years.

Round whitefish are bottom feeders. They eat a variety of invertebrates including mayfly larvae, chironomid larvae, small mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and fish eggs.

Photo: Round Whitefish, courtesy Wikimedia User LevPN.

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6 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:

    The reasons, or the criteria for removing Round Whitefish from the state’s endangered list are not made clear at all. Just finding offspring after stocking doesn’t seem to the lay person as a very protective criteria for a formerly widespread fish that is now still in a restricted group of lakes.

    • Paul says:

      I agree. And it sounded like just one generation? Seems like fletching some eagles and if they have some chicks they are good to go.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree. Seems a bit premature.

      Does anyone know the distinction between endangered and threatened?

  2. Charlie S says:

    “Does anyone know the distinction between endangered and threatened?”

    If they are endangered they are in a predicament. If they are threatened they are still in a predicament. Words are units of meaning. They can suggest this,stand for that or imply something altogether different. A tree is a tree to me yet legislation will consider a tree timber. Go figure! Endangered and threatened in this case are one and the same Boreas no matter what the law tries to imply, and if you really look at it all life on earth is threatened meaning we’re an endangered species ourselves.

    • Paul says:

      Yes, they are both in a predicament. I think the question is to the severity.

      It looks like NYS uses the same definition that the NWS uses:

      “Endangered – Any native species in imminent danger of extirpation or extinction in New York State. Threatened – Any native species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future in New York State.”

      Charlie you have to have some criteria to help you prioritize. This isn’t a perfect world. You try and do what you can.

  3. Charlie S says:

    Yes Paul and some of us will always go along with the flow because an irregularity has got a hold on them.

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