Expulsion of miniature radio transmitters along with eggs of muskellunge and northern pike: A new methods for locating critical spawning habitat

Identification and protection of critical spawning habitat for muskellunge Esox masquinongy and northern pike Esox lucius is important for preserving the reproductive potential of both species. In this study, we implanted miniature radio transmitters through the oviduct into the egg masses of female muskellunge and northern pike just prior to spawning. This non-surgical procedure was a novel approach for identifying spawning sites when transmitters were expelled with the eggs during egg deposition. Preliminary studies in three lakes showed that muskellunge and northern pike deposited many of the transmitters in likely spawning habitat. An inability to find eggs limited our validation of this method, but nevertheless, a relatively high proportion (70%) of northern pike larger than 690 mm (27.2 inches) expelled transmitters in a previously known spawning area in Willow Lake, Minnesota. Shoreline vegetation in that area consisted primarily of sedges Carex spp., and the adjacent water was shallow with substrate consisting of large mats of water bulrush Scirpus subterminalis. A lower proportion (50%) of muskellunge expelled transmitters in Elk Lake, Minnesota. Water depth at likely spawning sites averaged 1.1 m (3.6 feet) and vegetative cover was variable, but Chara spp. was common to most sites. In Moose Lake, Minnesota, containing sympatric populations of muskellunge and northern pike, 60% of muskellunge and 90% of pike expelled transmitters. Chara spp. beds were the predominant substrate where transmitters were expelled in Moose Lake, but the two species deposited transmitters on deepwater bars (3.7–5.2 m) in addition to shallow near-shore habitat. These results suggest more flexibility in depths used for spawning than typically reported for muskellunge and northern pike.