To determine if a survival bottleneck occurs in Lake Erie's lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) population and explore possible mechanisms responsible, we examined contemporary and historical dynamics of lake whitefish eggs, larvae and juveniles. Widespread spawning and low overwinter egg retention were observed in 2016–2018, however subsequent larval CPUE remained consistent with historical observations when regular recruitment occurred. Highest larval CPUE was consistently observed in nearshore areas 3–11 km from mid-lake spawning locations. Fall age-1 juvenile presence was predicted by fall age-0 catches, indicating the bottleneck occurs during the first growing season. Our results suggest the following: (1) factors limiting recruitment affect survival during or after the pelagic larval stage to fall age-0, and (2) physical and biological processes underlying connectivity between spawning and nearshore nursery habitats may be limiting recruitment. Future research focusing on larval nursery habitat characterization and lake whitefish growth and survival may reveal mechanisms affecting recruitment.
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Vol. 58 • No. 4-6