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NFC: were back......

A little five and a half inch fish is causing a whale of a delighted stir
since USGS scientists hauled the fish up from depths of nearly 500 feet
in April. It marked the first time the deepwater sculpin, a species once
abundant in Lake Ontario, had been seen in the U.S. waters of the lake in
more than 50 years. 

"The reappearance of deepwater sculpin is one of many recent signs that a
general recovery of Lake Ontario's native fish community is under way,"
said Mr. Robert O'Gorman, head of the USGS Lake Ontario Biological
Station in Oswego, NY. 

The fish, a mature female, was caught in a trawl net towed along the lake
floor 492 feet below the surface, said O'Gorman. It was identified by
USGS scientists working aboard the USGS Research Vessel KAHO during a
spring fishery investigation. 

Despite annual surveys by USGS and the New York Department of
Environmental Conservation from 1978-1997, the deepwater sculpin hadn't
been captured in the U.S. waters of Lake Ontario since 1942. Likewise,
exploratory fishing in the U.S. waters of southern Lake Ontario during
1964 and 1972 failed to capture any specimens. In the Canadian portion of
Lake Ontario, the fish is extremely rare -- only six deepwater sculpin
have been reported in Canadian waters since 1972 -- three in 1972 and
three in 1996. 

Deepwater sculpin are abundant in Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior and
rare in Lake Ontario. O'Gorman said that although the fish was plentiful
in Lake Ontario in the early 1900s, its populations plummeted in the
1950s, most likely because of predation on their young by alewife, a
non-native fish that invaded Lake Ontario from the Atlantic Ocean via
navigation canals. 

Deepwater sculpins are native in the Great Lakes where, as their name
implies, they occupy the deepest waters. The small scaleless fish have a
broad, flattened head and a long slender body. Deepwater sculpins are an
important link in the offshore food chain, eating bottom-dwelling
invertebrates and, in turn, being eaten by lake trout, historically the
lake's top predator. 

O'Gorman said the capture of this fish is another indication that Lake
Ontario is becoming much healthier. The numbers of two other formerly
abundant native fishes -- burbot and emerald shiner -- are increasing in
survey catches. Also, hatchery lake trout are beginning to successfully
reproduce after more than a decade of failure. 

"All of these positive signs appear linked to a decline in the abundance
of non-native alewives and a shift in their distribution to deeper
water," said O'Gorman. "Because the larvae of many native fishes,
including larvae of the deepwater sculpin, occupy shallow water, these
changes have helped reduce predation on the young of native fishes,
allowing their populations to start recovering." 

As the nation's largest water, earth and biological science and civilian
mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2000
organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial,
scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other
customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists
to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, to
contribute to the conservation and the sound economic and physical
development of the nation's natural resources, and to enhance the quality
of life by monitoring water, biological, energy, and mineral resources. 


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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29-Sep-1998 08:32:03 MDT