Himberg M., von Numers M., Vasemägi A., Heselius S.-J., Wiklund T., Lill J.-O., Hägerstrand H. 2015. Gill raker counting for approximating the ratio of river- and sea-spawning whitefish, Coregonus lavaretus (Actinopterygii: Salmoniformes: Salmonidae) in the Gulf of Bothnia, Baltic Sea. Acta Ichthyol. Piscat. 45 (2): 125–131.
The ability to distinguish between stocks in mixed fisheries is a prerequisite for a sustainable fisheries management. In the Gulf of Bothnia the relative contribution of endangered river-spawning and sea-spawning whitefish, Coregonus lavaretus (Linnaeus, 1758), to fisheries catches are currently not well known. This also applies to the southern Åland Islands, a major feeding ground for river-spawning whitefish from northern rivers. River- and sea-spawning whitefish are mixed while away from the breeding grounds and off the spawning season, and cannot be distinguished based on external features.
Materials and methods.
Analysis on gill raker numbers of river-spawning (n = 480) and sea-spawning (n = 456) whitefish from twelve locations at the Finnish west coast and the Åland Islands was performed. In whitefish sampled from feeding grounds at the Åland Islands the strontium concentration was analysed in otoliths from fish (n = 20) with low (27) and high (30) number of gill rakers.
A marked difference in the mean gill raker number of the river- and sea-spawning whitefish stocks was observed. The weighted mean of gill rakers of whitefish caught at spawning locations showed that the number of gill rakers of fish from rivers and the sea were 29.9 ± 2.14 (n = 480) and 26.7 ± 2.21 (n = 456), respectively. The difference between the two groups was highly significant (t = 22.50, df = 934, P < 0.0001). The means differed by 3.20 (2.92–3.48, 95% CL) indicating the groups are well separated. In whitefish sampled at feeding grounds at the Åland Islands, otolith strontium concentration was higher (t = 2.09, df = 18, P = 0.04) in fish having 27 gill rakers (3.86 ± 0.30 mg · g–1, n = 10), compared to those having 30 gill rakers (3.54 ± 0.35 mg · g–1, n = 10). Otolith strontium analysis thereby supported the utility of gill raker counting data for estimating the proportion of river- and sea-spawning whitefish in mixed populations. As expected, the gill raker counting method successfully indicated temporal alterations in the proportions of river- and sea-spawning whitefish on feeding grounds.
Gill raker counting is an easy, fast, and inexpensive method that can be used to estimate the spatiotemporal occurrence and migratory patterns of river- and sea-spawning whitefish at the southern feeding grounds in the Gulf of Bothnia, and thereby aid in a sustainable management of whitefish stocks.
stock discrimination, mixed fisheries, spatiotemporal occurrence, endangered species, otolith strontium