An Assessment of Sauger Population Characteristics on Two Tennessee River Reservoirs

In 1992, a 356-mm minimum length limit (MLL) was enacted on Kentucky Lake and a 381-mm MLL was enacted on Watts Bar Lake, two mainstem reservoirs on the Tennessee River, in an attempt to reduce exploitation and improve the size structure of the sauger (Sander canadensis) populations. The objectives of this study were to compare sauger population characteristics immediately following (1993-1994) and 15 years after (2008-2009) the regulations took effect, examine spatial and temporal patterns in growth, examine recruitment patterns in each reservoir using a recruitment variability index (RVI), and assess the current likelihood of overfishing. Saugers were collected with experimental gill nets in each reservoir and aged using otoliths. A Beverton-Holt yield-per-recruit model was used to simulate angler yields and estimate the likelihood of growth overfishing. Recruitment overfishing was assessed by examining spawning potential ratios under various MLL and exploitation rate scenarios. The sauger population in Kentucky Lake experienced modest improvements in size and age structure over the 15 years following enactment of more restrictive harvest regulations, whereas the population in Watts Bar Lake changed very little, if at all, in terms of size and age structure. Mean lengths of age-3 sauger were significantly greater in Watts Bar Lake than in Kentucky Lake in both time periods. The RVI values indicated that between 1993 and 2009 the sauger in Kentucky Lake displayed more stable recruitment than the Watts Bar Lake population. Neither population exhibited signs of growth overfishing in 2008-09 under the current length limits; however, the Watts Bar Lake population would be susceptible to recruitment overfishing at high (>40%) exploitation rates if natural mortality was as low as 20%. These analyses have demonstrated that the Watts Bar Lake and Kentucky Lake populations, in terms of size and age structure, have remained relatively stable over 15+ years and the MLLs appear to be conserving the stocks.

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