Bloater

General Informatiom:

After several species of the larger deepwater chubs in Lake Michigan succumbed to the combined pressures of fishing, sea lamprey attack and alewife competition, the smallest variety -- the bloater -- fell heir to the generic family name of "chub."

These small, soft-fleshed, oily fish will probably never be sought as game fish. They dwell too far from shore and have mouths too small for ordinary bait, since they feed mostly on zooplankton and other organisms near the lake bottom. But as smoked fish they command a good price at the market.

During the 1970s, bloater population in Lake Michigan dropped alarmingly, due apparently to alewife predation and competition. In 1976, the states ringing Lake Michigan issued a two-and-a-half-year ban on chub fishing. This ban and the decline in alewife numbers in the 1980s have allowed the lake's chub population to rebound, and commercial fishermen are once more harvesting chubs. Scientists also take satisfaction in this recovery, because the native bloaters are efficient feeders, growing more on less food than do alewives.

Historically, bloaters were disdained as the smallest and least attractive of Lake Superior's five deepwater chubs. Then overfishing and the sea lamprey eliminated the larger chub species, leaving only the bloaters, a few shortjaw and kiyi chubs, and some hybrids of these three species. As the sea lamprey ravaged the top predators in the lake, bloaters grew in size and numbers.

U.S. fishermen have now turned to the slow-growing bloaters to bolster their catches taken at 200 to 350-foot depths. Despite the success of this market, Canadian fishermen rarely go out for them, except for some fishermen on Lake Huron.

As a sport fish, bloaters hold little attraction in either country. They dwell too far from shore, and their mouths are too small for ordinary bait.



Copyright, 1998, by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
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