Determining minimum ultimate size, setting size limits and developing trophy standards and indices of comparable size for maintaining quality muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) populations and sport fisheries

Growth and ultimate size can provide important population insights and a sound biological basis for setting length limits, which can be the best single regulation for preventing overexploitation of muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) populations. A system was developed, using cleithral age and total length at age confidence limits (CL) data, to determine reproductive and growth potential (ultimate size) for calculating and setting increased size limits based on minimum reproductive size (upper 99% CL at age at first maturity + 2 year) and minimum ultimate size (MUS) calculated from the lower 99% CL—minimum ultimate size limit (MUSL). MUS also provides a trophy standard and an index of relative size for comparing trophy potential of individuals within and among populations. Guidelines are provided for determining minimum sample size (mean ± 95% confidence interval = 12 ± 4) and minimum age (8–10 ± 2.0 year) required to produce valid von Bertalanffy growth trajectories. MUS, MUSL, and trophy standards for both length and estimated weight are provided for female and male muskellunge from 14 Ontario sources. Mean MUS, or trophy standard, for females was 115 ± 10.3 cm (MUSL range 75–135) and 11.1 ± 2.6 kg (2.5–17.5) and for males was 95 ± 7.5 cm (66–110) and 6.1 ± 1.3 kg (1.9–9.2). These indices can precisely define growth and growth potential for muskellunge populations and individuals and can be used to better manage and maintain or improve the quality of muskellunge populations and fisheries.