Fish commission funds sculpin study

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has awarded a SUNY  Oswego conservation geneticist a $62,822 grant to study small, bottom-dwelling Lake Ontario fish called deepwater sculpin — once thought extinct there.

Assistant Professor of Biology Amy Welsh studies a fish once thought extinct.

Assistant Professor of Biology Amy Welsh studies a fish once thought extinct.

The grant for Amy Welsh, assistant professor in Oswego’s biological sciences department, is in cooperation with researchers from Michigan State University and federal and state agencies.

Deepwater sculpin, a species with a flattened head, side-mounted eyes and distinctive fanlike dorsal fins, once thrived in Lake Ontario, but disappeared from scientists’ sampling sites from the 1960s through 1996.

Welsh will conduct DNA analysis to determine whether today’s deepwater sculpin are back from supposed extinction or drifted here from the upper Great Lakes.

Maureen Walsh, a research fishery biologist with the USGS Great Lakes Science Center’s Lake Ontario Biological Station in Oswego, said her agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Canadian partners sample the lake annually for many species of animal life. Deepwater sculpin had been plentiful from at least the 1920s through the 1950s, then disappeared.

Welsh and Walsh said the goals of the genetic study are to determine how today’s deepwater sculpin are related to the historic Lake Ontario population, and whether these finger-length fish could become plentiful enough to make part of a healthy, native diet for a depleted population of lake trout currently feeding on non-native alewives.

Whether the return of deepwater sculpin benefits lake trout or not, Welsh finds it an exciting development for Lake Ontario.

“The goal in the Great Lakes is to restore more of a native ecosystem,” she said. “There is impetus to revive native species.”

— Jeff Rea ’71


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