Population trends and status of the fishery

Panfish populations across the zone were surveyed between 1992 and 2010, using the NSCIN survey methodology, for black crappie and sunfish (pumpkinseed and bluegill). The FWIN survey methodology was used to survey yellow perch between 1996 and 2009. There were a total of 27 NSCIN and 40 FWIN surveys conducted on 16 and 34 lakes respectively, in FMZ 18. In addition, BsM surveys were conducted on 40 lakes in FMZ 18 from 2008 – 2010.

Pumpkinseed

Pumpkinseed abundance is estimated by the average number of pumpkinseed per net (CUE). The catch rate of pumpkinseed varies greatly across FMZ 18. The mean catch rate from the NSCIN surveys is 18.6 pumpkinseed/net in FMZ 18.

The mean catch rate from the BsM surveys is 1.4 pumpkinseed/net. A greater number of age classes and high maximum age are indicative of successful recruitment and adult survival. The assessment data show that many pumpkinseed are reaching the maximum ages of 8-10 years (Scott & Crossman, 1998) suggesting high survival. 12% of the pumpkinseed were 8 years or older (NSCIN Data).

Bluegill

Bluegill abundance is estimated by the average number of bluegill per net (CUE). The catch rate of bluegill varies greatly across FMZ 18. The mean catch rate from the NSCIN surveys is 83.7 bluegill/net in FMZ 18.

The mean catch rate from the BsM surveys is 1.9 bluegill/net. A greater number of age classes and high maximum age are indicative of successful recruitment and adult survival. The assessment data show that a number of bluegill are reaching the maximum ages of 8-10 years (Scott & Crossman, 1998) suggesting relatively high survival. 5% of the bluegill were 8 years or older (NSCIN).

Black crappie

Black crappie abundance is estimated by the average number of black crappie per net (CUE). The catch rate of black crappie varies greatly across FMZ 18. The mean catch rate from the NSCIN surveys is 10.2 black crappie/net in FMZ 18.

The mean catch rate from the BsM surveys is 0.5 black crappie/net. A greater number of age classes and high maximum age are indicative of successful recruitment and adult survival. The assessment data show that a moderate number of black crappie are reaching the maximum ages of 8-10 years (Scott & Crossman, 1998) suggesting moderate survival. 2% of the black crappie were 8 years or older (NSCIN Data).

Yellow perch

Yellow perch abundance is estimated by the average number of yellow perch per net (CUE). The catch rate of yellow perch varies greatly across FMZ 18. The mean catch rate from the FWIN surveys is 4.8 yellow perch/net in FMZ 18.

The mean catch rate from the BsM surveys is 3.1 yellow perch/net. A greater number of age classes and high maximum age are indicative of successful recruitment and adult survival. The assessment data show that a low number of yellow perch are reaching the maximum ages of 9-10 years (Scott & Crossman, 1998) suggesting relatively low survival. <1% of the yellow perch were 9 years or older (BsM Data).

The abundance and distribution of bluegill, black crappie and pumpkinseed populations may be best explained collectively, as there are likely interspecific relationships at many levels. Certain bluegill and black crappie populations demonstrate the typical abundance trends of an introduced species, where the initial establishment is followed by a dramatic increase in population size. In the case of bluegill, there appears to be a stabilization of abundance, however the introduction of black crappie in certain waterbodies may be recent enough that this stabilization has not yet occurred. These species both compete at various levels with the native pumpkinseed sunfish, which have shown a gradual decline in abundance over the same time period.

Fishing effort for panfish within FMZ 18 is highly variable from species to species and lake to lake. yellow perch effort is relatively low to moderate, although still accounting for 12% of angling catch, in FMZ 18. black crappie effort is also typically low to moderate, although the species is supporting an increasing fishery, particularly in the early spring. Angling effort for sunfish (pumpkinseed and bluegill) ranges from low to high on the various lakes. Overall, sunfish has accounted for as much as 51% of total angling catch, and 53% of total angling harvest, within FMZ 18 (Hogg et al., 2010).

In summary, panfish populations in the majority of FMZ 18 lakes are considered to be very healthy, in relatively high abundance and are not showing signs of high mortality, with the exception of the larger size segment of a number of sunfish fisheries. Most populations have high proportions of fish at, near and beyond the age of maturity. The management focus for these species is to try and maintain, or potentially increase population abundance in fisheries managed for sunfish and bass; but also reduce population abundance in fisheries managed for walleye or lake trout (with the exception of yellow perch in walleye fisheries).

Panfish management in FMZ 18

The decline in abundance of larger size panfish in FMZ 18 has been recognized as a concern and a priority in the fisheries management plan. The introduction of bluegill and black crappie has diversified the panfish fishery, creating angling opportunities and associated tourism benefits, but has also created more challenges for managing traditional sport fish species. The warm water lakes in FMZ 18 are highly productive and can support a quality panfish fishery based on naturally reproducing populations.

MNRF and the FMZ 18 Advisory Council identified a number of challenges (as well as opportunities) to managing panfish populations in FMZ 18.

Management challenges:

  • decreased abundance of large fish
  • increased fishing effort for larger sunfish
  • introductions of invasive panfish species (bluegill and black crappie) into new waterbodies
  • lack of more extensive FMZ 18 panfish biological attribute data

Management opportunities:

  • high abundance of panfish in most fisheries within FMZ 18

The MNRF with the advice of the Advisory Council developed objectives and strategies to address the challenges (and opportunities) and help reach the following panfish management goal.

Goal:

To maintain sustainable populations of panfish species that support quality fisheries

Objective 1:

Maintain panfish abundance and increase proportion of larger sunfish in existing bass and sunfish dominated communities to provide associated socio-economic benefits including tourism and recreational.

Male sunfish gain a reproductive advantage by growing large and out-competing smaller sunfish for nesting areas and breeding females. Larger males are also considered more effective nest defenders. The presence of large parental males results in increased prematuration body size of sunfish and maintains the quality size structure of the population. When large parental males are removed, smaller males become more successful spawners and as a result mature earlier. The end result is a shift in the population structure and a decreased abundance of large parental males. Sunfish in these populations may be abundant, but offer a low-quality fishery.

Strategies to address the objective include:

  • monitor panfish populations, including sunfish populations to assess the success of the regulations aiming to protect large sunfish to maintain/improve population size structure

Objective 2:

Maintain angling opportunities for panfish.

Yellow perch populations in FMZ 18 provide a critical prey base for a number of species, including walleye. Fisheries that produce sufficient numbers of large yellow perch within the zone are limited. No significant challenges for the management of yellow perch have been identified; however, significant yellow perch fisheries exist in adjacent FMZ’s to meet some of the recreational angling demand. Maintaining harmonized yellow perch regulations across FMZ’s, where consistent with zone-specific objectives, will help ensure effectiveness of enforcement.

In other jurisdictions, yellow perch, black crappie and sunfish are highly sought by anglers as both a quality sport fishing experience and desirable harvest opportunity. A number of Ontario resident anglers largely disregard the quality angling and harvesting experiences offered by some of these species.

One component of MNRF’s mandate is to provide fishing opportunities within the sustainable use of the fisheries resource. The abundance and diversity of panfish species can support a significant level of harvest. Currently, existing panfish angling opportunities are being under-utilized on a number of waterbodies, within FMZ 18.

Strategies to address the objective include:

  • maintain current length of the panfish season (i.e. open all year)

Objective 3:

Prevent the spread of bluegill and black crappie into new waterbodies.

Bluegill and black crappie are not native to lakes within FMZ 18, but have become well established throughout a significant portion of the zone. These populations are now considered naturalized and it is unrealistic to expect a significant reduction in these populations at current levels of harvest. However, the establishment of these populations does provide additional angling and harvest opportunities. The introduction of these species to new waterbodies should be prevented as they pose detrimental risks to existing fisheries.

Strategies to address the objective include:

  • see Invasive Species and Diseases Management Strategy Section The goal, objectives and strategies have been summarized in Table 4

Table 4: Panfish management summary

Adapted from tabular format

Panfish management goal:

To maintain sustainable populations of panfish species that support quality fisheries.

Objective 1:

Maintain panfish abundance and increase proportion of larger sunfish in existing bass and sunfish dominated communities to provide associated socio-economic benefits including tourism and recreational.

Strategies
  • Monitor panfish populations, including sunfish populations to assess the success of the regulations aiming to protect large sunfish to maintain/improve population size structure.
Progress reviewed by
  • BsM Cycle 3
  • NSCIN Cycle 1
IndicatorBenchmarkTarget
Median (area weighted – BsM) CUEW (all lakes combined):
  • BsM
  • NSCIN
Current kg/netCurrent kg/net
BsM Proportion of lakes where biomass ratio (B/Bmax) is > 0.5Current % of lakesCurrent % of lakes
Proportion of lakes where mortality rate ratio (Z/M) is < 2:
  • BsM
  • NSCIN
Current % of lakesCurrent % of lakes
Proportion of 180 mm sunfish (all lakes combined):
  • BsM
  • NSCIN
Current proportion of 180 mm sunfish (all lakes combined)> Current proportion of 180 mm sunfish (all lakes combined)
Objective 2:

Maintain angling opportunities for panfish.

Strategies
  • Maintain current length of the panfish season (i.e. open all year).
IndicatorBenchmarkTarget
N/AN/AN/A
Objective 3:

Prevent the spread of bluegill and black crappie into new waterbodies.

Strategies
  • See Invasive Species and Diseases Management Strategy Section.
Progress reviewed by

BsM Cycle 4

IndicatorBenchmarkTarget
# of lakes with bluegill and/or black crappieCurrent # of lakes with bluegill and/or black crappieCurrent # of lakes with bluegill and/or black crappie

Panfish monitoring and assessment

The provincial BsM program is the primary lake survey method used to collect fisheries data in Ontario. The program collects information on a large number of lakes to determine status and trends of fisheries at the FMZ scale. The BsM program collects information about fish species, abundance, population structure, growth, maturity and fishing effort. For panfish species that are not captured in sufficient numbers to adequately monitor population status using BsM, additional enhanced monitoring may be required. Enhanced monitoring may entail modified BsM projects that target panfish habitat, or using other MNRF standardized netting protocols (FWIN, NSCIN), and specifically targeting warm water lakes. Additional enhanced monitoring will help inform local land-use planning and resource management decision making, consistent with the goals, objectives and outcomes of the FMZ18 plan.

Strategies:

  • develop a more effective monitoring program for sunfish and/or black crappie
  • implement a monitoring program to effectively assess sunfish and black crappie population status across FMZ 18
  • adopt the BsM program as the primary index netting (and effort census) survey to assess yellow perch population status across the FMZ
  • develop public/partner opportunities to measure fishing pressure and harvest rates via public reporting (e.g. volunteer angler diary program)

Current panfish regulations:

The panfish fishery in FMZ 18 is regulated with a year round open season, and catch and possession limits of:

  • fifty (50) yellow perch; thirty (30) black crappie; and three hundred (300) sunfish (pumpkinseed and/or bluegill) – only 30 of which may be greater than 18 cm. (7.1 in.); for a sport license
  • twenty-five (25) yellow perch; ten (10) black crappie; and fifteen (15) sunfish (pumpkinseed and/or bluegill, of any size); for a conservation license