Changes in the population density of pelagic salmonids in relation to changes in lake enrichment in Windermere (northwest England)


J. M. Elliott, NERC Institute of Freshwater Ecology, The Windermere Laboratory, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 OLP, United Kingdom


From July 1989 to December 1994, an echo sounder provided monthly estimates, usually for both day and night, of pelagic salmonid densities in the North and South Basins of Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. Sampling was along contiguous transects, three in the North Basin and five in the South Basin. Records for Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) could not be separated from those for brown trout (Salmo trutta), but previous sampling by gill-nets and anglers showed that charr formed over 90% of this mixed population in the North Basin and about 60–75% in the South Basin. Associated with the increasing eutrophication of the lake, there has been a decline in anglers' catches of charr and, since 1984, an increase in brown trout taken in the pelagic zone of the South Basin. The echo-sounder data showed that pelagic salmonid density in the North Basin was about two to five times that in the more eutrophic South Basin in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Since the start, in April 1992, of the reduction of phosphorus discharged from sewage works, this ratio has decreased, especially at night when the highest densities were recorded. This improvement was chiefly due to a significant (P<0.001) increase in the density of small fish (length <20 cm), in both the upper (depth <20 m) and deeper (depth >20 m) water layers. Although a similar improvement has still to be shown in the upper water layer by larger fish above the size limit for removal by angling (20 cm), there has been a significant increase (P<0.01) in the density of these fish in the deeper water layer of the South Basin. The increased density of small fish suggests that the stock available to charr anglers (fish >20 cm at water depths <20 m) should increase in the next few years, especially in the South Basin. It is therefore important to continue the monitoring program and thus ensure that there is advance warning of any marked changes in charr stocks.