Density-dependent mortality in young life stages should strongly limit the potential for additive effects caused by stocking of fish sizes that are smaller than size at recruitment into the fishery. Indeed, stocking models have suggested that stocking of fry should not elevate year class strength in self-sustaining stocks. However, limited data based on replicated and controlled experiments are available to support this prediction. We performed a pond experiment (N = 4 per treatment) to compare the stock enhancing outcome of stocking hatchery-reared northern pike (Esox lucius) fry and the natural production of young in self-recruiting pike populations. We also added a treatment where pike fry were stocked into ponds that otherwise did not have pike to mimic the absence of natural recruitment. Fry stocking into self-reproducing stocks did not elevate year class strength over unstocked controls. However, in the absence of competition, year class strength of juveniles in late summer emerging from fry stocking was similar to the production of natural recruits. Overall, we demonstrated the competitive disadvantage of hatchery-reared fry when released into waters already containing natural recruits, the partial replacement of natural recruits by hatchery-reared fry, and the lack of additive effects of stock enhancement in naturally reproducing stocks. A stock-enhancing effect of pike fry stocking may only be expected in the absence of natural recruitment.
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2014, Vol 71, Issue 10, p. 1508-1519