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Long term effects of cormorant predation on fish communities and fishery in a freshwater lake

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Cormorant impact upon natural fish populations has long been debated but little studied because of the requirements of sound data that are often hard to fill. In this study I have monitored fish community composition/abundance before and after a cormorant colony was established in a high productive lake, Ymsen, of south‐central Sweden. Data on fish abundance before cormorant establishment enabled me to control for changes in fish densities prior to cormorant colonisation. To control for possible changes in fish populations caused by factors other than cormorant predation (i.e. large‐scale regional changes due to climate) data were compared with a control lake, Garnsviken, with no cormorants. Since Lake Ymsen also harbour an important commercial fishery, cormorant impact upon fishery yields was evaluated. The most important fish species in the diet of the cormorants were ruffe (75% by number), roach (11%) and perch (10%). Except for perch, commercially important fish made up a very small fraction of the cormorant diet. Eel, the most important fish for the fishery, was absent in the cormorant diet, pikeperch constituted 0.2% and pike 1.5%. Estimated fish outtake by the cormorants was 12.8 kg ha−1 yr−1 compared to 8.6 kg ha−1 yr−1 for the fishery. Despite considerable fish withdrawal by the cormorants, fish populations did not seem to change in numbers or biomass.

The present study indicates that cormorant impact upon fish populations in Lake Ymsen was small and probably in no case has led to declines of neither commercial nor of non‐commercial fish species. Still, the number of breeding cormorants in Lake Ymsen, in relation to foraging area, is among the highest known for Swedish lakes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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