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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 16:77-84 (2012)  -  DOI:

Decline of the North Sea houting: protective measures for an endangered anadromous fish

Niels Jepsen1,*, Michael Deacon2, Anders Koed

1DTU Aqua, Section for Freshwater Fisheries Ecology, Vejlsøvej 39, 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark
2The Ministry of Environment, Nature Agency Ribe, Sorsigvej 35, 6760 Ribe, Denmark

ABSTRACT: Once an abundant fish species in the rivers of the Wadden Sea in northwest Europe, the North Sea houting Coregonus oxyrinchus (NSH) was at the brink of extinction 25 yr ago. The very last stronghold for this species was in the small Danish River Vidaa. In an attempt to preserve this anadromous whitefish species, juveniles were hatchery-reared and stocked in 6 Danish rivers flowing into the Wadden Sea. These stocking efforts were fairly successful, and the houting established populations in at least 2 of the rivers, but the underlying problem of habitat degradation and migration obstacles was not solved. Since a national management plan was issued in Denmark in 2003, large-scale river restoration measures have been undertaken, including the removal of 13 large obstacles in 3 NSH rivers and reestablishment of meanders in the lower river reaches. These measures were all intended to increase the spawning area for NSH and reduce juvenile mortality of NSH. The generic effect of these recent and ongoing changes is, however, not yet known. The NSH population has been irregularly monitored under various programs. Results from 15 yr of field investigation using passive integrated transponder (PIT)-tagging showed that the NSH population in the River Vidaa remains stable, but in the other 2 rivers populations are decreasing. However, due to the recent physical improvements in river habitat and connectivity, we expect a substantial improvement in the population status of the NSH in the near future. Once they reach sexual maturity, NSH grow relatively slowly (mean: 2.55 cm yr−1, ranging from 0 to 13.8 cm yr−1) and can reach an age of 10 to 12 yr. The number of repeated recaptures year after year indicates low mortality for adult fish. Six individuals were recaptured in rivers other than the one in which they were initially PIT-tagged, indicating some exchange/straying between adjacent rivers. Overall there is a good chance that this unique species was saved in the 11th hour by intervention from managers and the EU.

KEY WORDS: North Sea houting · Coregonus · Anadromous · Habitat restoration · Wadden Sea

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Cite this article as: Jepsen N, Deacon M, Koed A (2012) Decline of the North Sea houting: protective measures for an endangered anadromous fish. Endang Species Res 16:77-84.

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