1. For many fish species, survival during early life stages is linked to the size and energetic condition of females prior to reproduction. For example, females in good energetic condition are often more fecund and produce larger eggs and offspring than those in poor condition.
2. We measured the characteristics of female yellow perch (Perca flavescens) that may influence annual population fluctuations. From 2005 to 2007, we measured spatial variation in female reproductive traits, such as age, length, mass and energy density (J g−1) of somatic tissues and ovaries among four spawning aggregations of yellow perch in western and central Lake Erie.
3. Maternal traits, such as somatic energy density and spawner age distribution, differed between the western and central basin, whereas reproductive traits, such as fecundity and ovarian energy density, differed across years.
4. To understand the implications of observed differences in demographic rates (growth and mortality rates) between basins, we developed a deterministic model to simulate the total egg production in the western and central basins under different scenarios of fishing mortality.
5. High growth rates and low mortality rates combined to produce higher modelled estimates of total egg production in the central than in the western basin, and a larger proportion of eggs were produced by old age classes in the central basin than in the western basin.
6. Our results demonstrate that changing harvest levels for populations with different demographic rates can influence total reproductive output through complex interactions between age-specific mortality, growth and size-specific fecundity, which has implications for the population dynamics of yellow perch and related species across a broad geographic range.