Burbot: Ecology, Management, and Culture

Status of Burbot Populations in the Laurentian Great Lakes

Martin A. Stapanian, Charles P. Madenjian, Charles R. Bronte, Mark P. Ebener, Brian F. Lantry, and Jason D. Stockwell

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569988.ch7

Abstract.—Burbot Lota lota populations collapsed in four of the five Laurentian Great Lakes between 1930 and the early 1960s. Collapses in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario were associated with sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus predation, whereas the collapse in Lake Erie was likely due to a combination of overexploitation, decreased water quality, and habitat degradation. We examined time series for burbot population density in all five lakes extending as far back as the early 1970s to present time and characterized the long-term trends after the initial collapses. Burbot population density in Lake Superior has remained relatively low and stable since 1978. Recovery of the burbot populations occurred in Lakes Michigan and Huron during the 1980s and in Lake Erie during the 1990s. Control of sea lampreys was a requirement for recovery of burbot populations in these three lakes. Declines in alewife Alosa pseudoharengus abundance appeared to be a second requirement for burbot recovery in Lakes Michigan and Huron. Alewives have been implicated in the decline of certain Great Lakes fish stocks that have pelagic larvae (e.g., burbot) by consuming the pelagic fry and possibly by outcompeting the fry for food. Relatively high populations of adult lake trout Salvelinus namaycush compared to burbot served as a buffer against predation by sea lampreys in Lakes Huron and Erie, which facilitated recovery of the burbot populations there. Although sea lampreys have been controlled in Lake Ontario, alewives are probably still too abundant to permit burbot recovery.