The management of a recreational fishery composed of multiple predatory species can pose a challenge to managers, as they must maintain both the ecological balance of the system and the satisfaction of divergent angler groups who may have competing interests. Historically when either the ecological or social perspective of a system or fishery has been ignored, the result is often a damaged relationship between the resource users and the managing agency (Churchill et al. 2002). Fisheries managers must understand how interactions between predators—real or perceived—affect angler perceptions of predator species. Ideally, fisheries managers can use their understanding of the occurring biological interactions to educate anglers and appropriately address any concerns and conflicts that might be present. Such conflicts exist for many recreational fisheries and are especially prevalent in fisheries surrounding large predators like muskellunge Esox masquinongy.
Muskellunge and other esocids have held a bad reputation amongst anglers for over a century (Hall 1987) and have been cited as the cause of declines in many sportfish populations over the years, including walleye Sanders vitreus (e.g. Scidmore 1964, Maloney and Schupp 1986), crappies Pomoxis spp. (e.g. Siler and Beyerle 1984), and black bass Micropterus spp. (e.g. Krishka et al. 1996, Kerr and Grant 2000). Despite these claims, evidence of muskellunge preying on and altering other sportfish populations is equivocal. Many populations of muskellunge and other sportfish, like smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu and walleye, exist together naturally in North America and support successful recreational fisheries (e.g. Thomas and Haas 2004, Knapp et al. 2012). Other systems exist, however, in which direct predation on other sportfish populations by muskellunge seems to be a major issue (e.g. Schmidtz and Hetfeld 1965). Thus, the muskellunge and smallmouth bass populations of the New River, Virginia provided an ideal opportunity to study and improve our understanding of the interactions between muskellunge and another popular sportfish.
Our research studied the importance of smallmouth bass in muskellunge diet in the New River, Virginia. Over two years we collected the stomach contents from 274 muskellunge using pulsed-gastric lavage. Food items were identified to the lowest level of taxonomic resolution possible, weighed (wet weight), and measured (TL for fish). We found that consumption of smallmouth bass by muskellunge was very limited. Smallmouth bass represented only 1% (of total wet weight) of muskellunge diet. The primary prey items consumed by muskellunge were suckers Catostomidae spp., smaller centrarchids (i.e. Lepomis spp. and rock bass Ambloplites rupestris), and minnows Cyprinidae spp. These prey items were consistent with those found in the diet of New River Muskellunge in 2000-2003 (Brenden et al. 2004) and with muskellunge diets reported for other systems (Kerr 2016).
The product I intend to create is a ‘flier’ with a QR code—a barcode that can be scanned with a cellphone. The QR code will take the scanner to a short 5-minute video on the project’s findings. The QR code, along with the video’s web address, will be printed on waterproof fliers and available at local tackle shops, guiding services, and boat ramps. If possible, I would also like to have the QR code and web address printed in local fishing publications. New River anglers are a diverse group, each with his or her own level of familiarity with technology. Reaching the different types of anglers will likely require multiple mediums. Thus if time permits, I would like to advertise several viewings of the video on the fliers and hold Q-and-A segments following the video.
New River anglers are my intended audience for this project, especially those that fish for smallmouth bass and muskellunge. Smallmouth bass anglers in particular are concerned about the impact Muskellunge have on the quality of the bass fishery, and this research should help ease their concerns.
Brenden, T. O., E. M. Hallerman, and B. R. Murphy. 2004. Predatory impact of Muskellunge on New River, Virginia, Smallmouth Bass. Proceedings of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 58:12-22.
Churchill, T. N., P. W. Bettoli, D. C. Peterson, W. C. Reeves, and B. Hodge. 2002. Angler conflicts in fisheries management: a case study of the Striped Bass controversy at Norris Reservoir, Tennessee. Fisheries 27:10-19.
G. E. Hall. 1987. Managing muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, Maryland.
Kerr, S. J. 2016. Feeding habits and diet of the Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy): a review of potential impacts on resident biota. Muskies Canada Inc. and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Peterborough, Ontario.
Kerr, S. J. and R. E. Grant. 2000. Muskellunge and northern pike. Pages 325-355 in Ecological impacts of fish introductions: evaluating the risk. Fisheries Section, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario.
Knapp, M. L., S. W. Mero, D. J. Bohlander, D. F. Staples, and J. A. Younk. 2012. Fish community responses to the introduction of muskellunge into Minnesota lakes. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 32:191-201.
Krishka, B. A., R. F Cholmondeley, A. J. Dextrase and P. J. Colby. 1996. Impacts of introductions and removals on Ontario percid communities. Report of the Introductions and Removals Working Group, Percid Community Synthesis. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario.
Maloney, J. and D. H. Schupp. 1977. Use of winter rescue northern pike in maintenance stocking. Fisheries Investigational Report 345. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. St. Paul, Minnesota.
Schmidtz, W. R. and R. E. Hetfield. 1965. Predation by introduced Muskellunge on perch and bass II: Years 8-9. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Science Arts and Letters 54:274-282.
Scidmore, W. J. 1964. Use of yearling northern pike in the management of Minnesota lakes. Fisheries Investigational Report No. 277. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. St. Paul, Minnesota.
Siler, D. H. and G. B. Beyerle. 1984. Introduction and management of northern muskellunge in Iron Lake, Michigan. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 15:257-262.
Thomas, M. V., and R. C. Haas. 2004. Status of the Lake St. Clair fish community and sport fishery, 1996-2001. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Division.