Assessment of the Response of Piscivorous Sportfishes to the Establishment of Gizzard Shad in Claytor Lake, Virginia

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Virginia Tech


Gizzard shad were illegally introduced to Claytor Lake in the late 1980s and soon established a thriving population. This study assessed 1) the degree to which gizzard shad were utilized by piscivores (pelagic - striped bass Morone saxatilis, hybrid striped bass M. chrysops x M. saxatilis, and walleye Stizostedion vitreum, and three littoral black basses Micropterus spp.), 2) the availability of gizzard shad as potential prey as determined from age and growth analysis, and 3) the performance (growth rates, relative weight, and relative abundance) of piscivores before versus after gizzard shad establishment.

Gizzard shad were more highly utilized by pelagic predators (especially striped bass and their hybrids) than black basses. Rapid growth of gizzard shad (mean back-calculated length at age-1 = 155 mm TL) meant that almost all morphologically available shad were age-0. The reliance on one edible age class of gizzard shad resulted in an unstable food supply as evidenced by much greater striped bass shad consumption in Summer 1998 (63 % by weight) when age-0 shad were more abundant than in Summer 1997 (7 % by weight).

Striped bass was the only species to exhibit faster growth rates and mean relative weight (Wr) values in the 1990s versus pre-shad years. Walleye (except age-1) and black bass growth rates declined, and mean Wr values either remained consistent or declined. Largemouth bass and walleye were the only sportfish to show increases in relative abundance.

Benefits of gizzard shad as a forage fish appear to be limited to striped bass and its hybrid species. It is possible that gizzard shad have had, directly or indirectly, an adverse impact on the black basses of Claytor Lake, but explanatory analysis of these relationships was beyond the scope of this study.



diet composition, forage fish utilization, reservoir ecology