Lake Superior Boasts Record Herring Population, Ushering in a Brighter Aquatic Future

Lake Superior's North Shore is awash with a record-breaking abundance of lake herring, a testament to the remarkable recruitment of these prized fish into the lake's ecosystem. This surge in herring numbers marks a significant turning point for the region's fisheries, offering hope for a revitalized aquatic landscape.

"This is an extraordinary event, one that we may only witness once in our entire careers as fisheries managers," remarked Cory Goldsworthy, Lake Superior area supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Goldsworthy elaborated during a recent WTIP interview that the 2022 year class of lake herring far surpasses any previous record, even eclipsing the legendary 1984 class that has long been the benchmark for herring recruitment in Lake Superior.

Lake herring, also known as cisco, play a pivotal role in Lake Superior's delicate ecosystem, serving as a crucial food source for a variety of fish species, including lake trout, salmon, and walleye. Historically, herring supported the largest commercial fishery on Lake Superior, yielding up to 19 million pounds annually during peak seasons, according to the DNR.

While commercial fishing activities have declined in recent years, herring remain a significant component of the lake's fishery. Even during low-catch years, such as 2014 and 2015, anglers, primarily commercial operators, harvested hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring from Lake Superior's Minnesota waters alone. Across the entire lake, the average annual herring harvest exceeds a million pounds.

The decline of herring populations in Lake Superior can be attributed to a combination of factors, including fishing pressure, reduced ice cover (cold water persisting deep into summer is ideal for herring), and the commercial harvest of herring roe for export to Scandinavian countries.

However, the exceptional recruitment of the 2022 year class and the subsequent surge in herring numbers paint a brighter picture for Lake Superior's aquatic ecosystem, particularly for its fish populations.

"This influx of herring will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on Lake Superior," Goldsworthy asserted.

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