News and Events

October is National Seafood Month

Event Date: 10/1/2017
End Date: 10/31/2017

Michigan fish producers offer a wide variety of products for consumers.

By Ron Kinnunen

Locally produced Michigan Great Lakes smoked fish is a delicious option to try to celebrate National Seafood Month. Photo: Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

October is National Seafood Month which is a great time to spotlight sustainable fisheries and the fishery products they provide to the consumer.

In the U.S. there are a variety of locally produced fishery products available to the consumer that are either wild caught or farm raised. The U.S. wild-caught fishery provides the most diverse products to choose from. The leading farm-raised products produced in the U.S. include catfish, crawfish, trout, salmon, oysters, and clams.

Many Michigan options

In Michigan, both locally produced farm-raised fish, as well as wild-caught Great Lakes fish, are available for consumers. Michigan aquaculture producers supply a number of food fish species for purchase at the farm gate and/or local markets and retail outlets. Most of this farm-raised fish in Michigan is rainbow trout.

Lake whitefish is the most-caught commercial fish in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes. Today, the Great Lakes commercial fishery for lake whitefish is managed for sustainability, with most of these fish caught from lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. Great Lakes whitefish from Michigan’s highly managed fisheries is caught by small, family based operations and processed locally, making it an important economic component to local coastal communities. To learn more about this Michigan Great Lakes commercial fishery you can visit Great Lakes Whitefish.

Read the label

Ninety percent of seafood sold in Michigan is imported. By reading labels customers can determine where the fish they buy was produced. All large retail grocery stores are required by the Country of Origin Labeling law to label the seafood that they sell as either wild caught or farm raised and what country it originated from. Country of Origin Labeling was a provision of the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill and is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If customers choose to eat Great Lakes fish, reading labels is key.

And whether you prefer your seafood grilled, boiled, baked or smoked, Michigan Sea Grant has some great resources for recipes. Our cookbook “Wild Caught and Close to Home: Selecting and Preparing Great Lakes Whitefish” has whitefish recipes, and offers cooking techniques and insights from chefs. Our “Freshwater Feasts” blog also offers recipes and more.

Two AmeriCorps positions open for Michigan Sea Grant programs

Event Date: 9/29/2017

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension are looking for two Huron Pines AmeriCorps members to help coordinate our education programs! 

One person will work in southeast Michigan on programs like the Great Lakes Education Program (GLEP), Summer Discovery Cruises, and the Water Conservation program. Learn more about the position from recent AmeriCorps member Katelyn Burns

The other person will join the Northern Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative to help foster place-based stewardship education in lovely Alpena, Michigan. Learn more about the position from recent AmeriCorps member Olivia Rose. Also check out the flyer she created to sum up her AmeriCorps experience.

Applications are due by September 29, 2017. Find more details and application guidelines on the Huron Pines website

Extension educator position open in Saginaw Bay

Serve the communities of Michigan’s Thumb as Michigan Sea Grant’s newest Extension educator!

Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators live and work around the state, where they advance goals of outreach, education, and restoration related to Great Lakes ecosystems and communities. The person in this position will collaborate with colleagues and partners to provide leadership for Michigan Sea Grant’s Saginaw Bay region (encompassing Arenac, Bay, Tuscola, Huron, and Sanilac counties). 

Does this sound like the right position for you? Find more details about the position and application guidelines here. Initial application review begins October 13, 2017.

Saginaw Bay State Recreation Area

This entry was posted in News.

Lake Michigan’s charter fishing industry is… remarkably stable

It doesn’t make for sensational headlines, but charter fishing has been a consistent part of coastal tourism despite recent ups and downs in fishing success.

Unhooking a Chinook salmon on the deck of a Lake Michigan charter boat. Lake Michigan charter trips and salmon remain a big draw and consistent part of coastal tourism. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Unhooking a Chinook salmon on the deck of a Lake Michigan charter boat. Lake Michigan charter trips and salmon remain a big draw and consistent part of coastal tourism. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

For the past 10 years as a Sea Grant Extension Educator I’ve worked to understand the economic impact of Michigan’s charter boat industry. This has big implications for coastal tourism. In 2016, charter fishing generated $23 million in Michigan’s coastal communities, resulting in 476,361 employment hours. Lake Michigan’s charter fishery is the largest, accounting for around 70 percent of the state’s charter fishing effort according to Michigan DNR. Charter captains in Michigan report their catch and effort to DNR, and Michigan Sea Grant uses this information to calculate economic impacts and investigate trends.

Big salmon are a big draw

Last year was a tough one for fishing. The Chinook salmon is a prized species on Lake Michigan, and charter harvest rate of Chinook salmon fell to the lowest it has been since 1995, when bacterial kidney disease (BKD) wiped out many of the lake’s salmon. According to Michigan DNR, charter harvest in Michigan waters of Lake Michigan ranged from 1.09 to 1.94 Chinook salmon per trip in the early 1990s, ranged from 2.24 to 7.40/trip 1996-2014, and fell from 2.27/trip in 2015 to 1.94/trip in 2016.

This understandably caused a lot of concern among charter captains last year. Angst was compounded by plans to reduce stocking, although the goal of the stocking cut was to prevent a complete crash in the fishery. Some of the debate centered on which species to cut: lake trout or Chinook salmon.

A recent study funded by Wisconsin Sea Grant found that Wisconsin anglers on Lake Michigan are willing to pay more to target Chinook salmon ($140/trip) vs. lake trout ($90/trip). An earlier study on the Lake Huron charter fishery found that the decline of Chinook salmon catch rates was linked to a 51 percent drop in charter fishing effort and resulting economic impacts, although increasing gas prices in the late 2000s were also a factor. During the Lake Huron charter fishing crash of the mid-2000s lake trout catch rates remained high. But what does this all mean for Michigan waters of Lake Michigan?

Consistent economic impacts are the rule

Despite low Chinook salmon catch rates in 2015 and 2016, charter trips and resulting economic impacts did not exhibit the same kind of crash that occurred in Lake Huron around 2004. In fact, Lake Michigan charter trips remained above the post-BKD average of 11,577 trips/year in 2015 and 2016 according to Michigan DNR.

2009 charter economic study found that the economic impact of charter fishing around Lake Michigan averaged $14 million; due to economic factors (e.g., rising gas prices, recession) this fell to $11.6 million in 2009. After adjusting for inflation, this means that Lake Michigan charter fishing generated an average of $15.7 million in Michigan and bottomed out at $12.6 million in 2009. In 2016, Michigan Sea Grant found that Lake Michigan charter fishing generated $15.7 million in economic impacts for Michigan coastal communities. Dead on average, despite the low Chinook salmon harvest rate.

Few fluctuations relative to Huron

The fact of the matter is that Lake Michigan’s charter fishery has been much less volatile than Lake Huron’s, both in terms of harvest rates and economic impacts. While Lake Michigan harvest rate dropped to just under two Chinook salmon per trip in 2016, Lake Huron crashed to fewer than one Chinook salmon every two trips (Michigan DNR data) and economic impacts of charter fishing fell by more than 50 percent.

In other words, anglers could still expect a good chance that their boat would harvest a Chinook on Lake Michigan last year while this was not the case after the decline of salmon on Lake Huron. Other species (including lake trout, coho salmon, and steelhead) play an important role in the charter fishery, too. Many anglers are thrilled to catch any of our Great Lakes trout and salmon, all of which make good eating and top out at an impressive size.

Given the recent troubles with predator-prey balance in Lake Michigan and the high prey consumption of Chinook salmon, we can expect a more diverse mix of predators in the future along with modest Chinook catch rates. The good news is that the economic impacts of Lake Michigan’s charter fishery appear to be quite stable so long as anglers can still expect a reasonable chance at boating a ‘king.’

Lake Michigan kings are back — but why?

After the gloom-and-doom of 2016, anglers are gearing up for a much better run of salmon in 2017. Recent trends in the fishery suggest that ups and downs may be the new norm if prey populations do not stabilize.

Chinook salmon from the 2014 year-class are now Age 3 and they seem to be providing very good fishing in Lake Michigan.

Chinook salmon from the 2014 year-class are now Age 3 and they seem to be providing very good fishing in Lake Michigan. File photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Spread the word!  Lake Michigan kings are back — for now.

After a couple of disappointing years of fishing for Chinook salmon along the Michigan shoreline of Lake Michigan, anglers are once again excited about the late-summer bonanza that these “king” salmon provide. While the final estimates of angler harvest and catch rates will not be available from Michigan DNR and other agencies until spring, the long lines of heavy coolers at fish cleaning stations and full boards of fish are a very good sign.

The size of fish is even more impressive. Ever since bacterial kidney disease (BKD) ran through the Chinook salmon population in the late 1980s, king salmon over 30 pounds have been rare to nonexistent in most years. This year has already produced numerous 30 pounders and even one giant that tipped the scales at 41.48 pounds (see details).

Why the rebound?

While fisheries scientists do not have a definitive answer to this question, there are several factors that at work. Many relate to the poor year-class of Chinook salmon in 2013. Many anglers will remember the public process that led up to the 46 percent reduction in Chinook salmon stocking for 2013. On top of this stocking cut, natural reproduction fell by an estimated 84 percent in 2013. All told, the number of Chinook salmon entering Lake Michigan dropped from 10.68 million in 2012 to 3.5 million in 2013.

This weak 2013 year-class was a big factor in the poor fishing experienced last year because Age 3 fish from the 2013 year-class were returning to spawn in 2016. The good news is that wild reproduction increased slightly in 2014 and the total number of Chinook salmon increased to 6.47 million (stocking remained steady from 2013 to 2014).

Chinook salmon from the 2014 year-class are now Age 3 and they seem to be providing very good fishing. Fisheries managers have been trying to balance the number of predators and available prey for decades, and judging by early reports it seems that the current balance is providing a nice mix of good catch rates and large, healthy salmon. However, this does not mean that the future of the Lake Michigan fishery is secure.

Ups and downs may be the new norm

Growth of salmon has been bouncing up and down like a ping pong ball over the past decade. The growth rate of fish is a good indicator of their overall well-being and ability to find enough food, so this means that conditions are changing a lot from one year to the next.

Fisheries managers look at the weight of mature Age 3 female Chinook salmon returning to weirs and harbors as a standardized measure of salmon growth in Lake Michigan. In 2015, the average weight of an Age 3 female was 13.1 pounds. This increased to 19.0 pounds in 2016. That is a huge difference!

Such radical and rapid shifts in growth rate indicate instability in the ecosystem. In other words, food availability is changing a lot from one year to the next. Some of this is related to changes in the number of predators (especially the big fluctuations in wild Chinook salmon production) but fluctuations in the availability of alewife (the salmon’s food source) are a bigger problem.

In short, small alewife are relatively abundant in some years and provide a lot of food for salmon. In other years, alewife do not produce as many young and salmon have trouble finding food. A big problem in recent years is that alewife do not often survive to spawn several times. Instead, nearly all alewife are eaten before they reach Age 5.

Not coincidentally, the last really good alewife year class we had was in 2012. The alewife from that 2012 year-class are now Age 5. If some of them are able to avoid all of the hungry mouths out in the big lake until next year then we may finally have some Age 6 alewife in Lake Michigan once again.

This would be a good sign for overall stability of predator-prey balance in the lake, but it is by no means guaranteed. Prior to 2000, alewife of Age 6, 7, and 8 were fairly common and in some years Age 9 alewife were also found. We are still a long way from that level of stability in older alewife.

Judging by recent history, the boom times will not last long. Get out there and enjoy it while it lasts, and remember the good times next time we have a tough season.

Place-Based Education Conference

Event Date: 11/9/2017
End Date: 11/11/2017

The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) invites you to the 6th annual Place-Based Education Conference. Experience a three-day conference designed to inspire and support a community of educators around the power of place-based learning!

Explore best practices and ways to engage students through meaningful discovery of their own communities and environments.

Who should attend? K-12 educators, informal educators, university faculty and students, and community organizations.

The 2017 Place-Based Education Conference is hosted by Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. GLSI is proud to partner with the Washtenaw County Solid Waste Division to ensure that this year’s conference is a zero-waste event! 

Learn more about speakers, lodging, and registration at the conference website.

This entry was posted in Events.

MAEOE (Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education) Annual Conference

Event Date: 10/6/2017
End Date: 10/8/2017

Celebrate 30 years of advancing environmental literacy at the 2017 MAEOE (Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education) Annual Conference. The conference will be held on October 6-8, 2017, at Central Michigan University. Participate in field trips and workshops, learn from other educators, and interact with sponsors and exhibitors. Find more details about scholarships/stipends, registration, lodging, and the draft agenda: http://www.maeoe.com/2017-conference.html

This entry was posted in Events.

Students team up with Michigan Sea Grant to protect native fish

A threatened fish called the River Redhorse is the latest subject of the Native Fish Heroes poster series.

The River Redhorse suffers from a case of mistaken identity. Even though it is a native fish that requires clean flowing rivers, many people mistake the River Redhorse for invasive carp or other native suckers that can tolerate polluted water. In fact, the River Redhorse is listed as a threatened species in Michigan and is only found in a handful of large, rocky rivers.

Students participating in the Lakeshore Environmental Education Program (LEEP) at Walden Green Montessori School in Ferrysburg had a chance to get to know the River Redhorse this spring. They learned how to identify closely-related species and teamed up with Michigan Sea Grant to teach others why the River Redhorse is so rare.

Guilt by association

The River Redhorse is one of six species of redhorse sucker living in Michigan waters. Some of the other species are very common, and fishing regulations allow for unlimited harvest of other sucker species using a variety of gear including spears, bows and arrows, certain types of nets, and hook-and-line. Suckers are bony but very good to eat when canned or ground. Unfortunately, the River Redhorse is easily mistaken for other species and is sometimes harvested along with other sucker species.

Worse yet, some people mistakenly believe River Redhorse are a harmful or invasive species. They get to be fairly big (over 30 inches long) and could be confused with invasive common carp. Perhaps this is one reason why River Redhorse are sometimes left on the bank to rot.

River Redhorse need clean-swept rocky areas to spawn. Many large rivers suffer from pollution in the form of silt and sand that washes in from eroding banks, city streets, and agricultural land. This “nonpoint source” pollution can smother eggs and also harms native filter-feeding mussels. The River Redhorse feeds heavily on native mussels, and the decline of mussels in many areas of the eastern United States may be one reason for the rarity of River Redhorse.

Big rivers are also subject to development for flood control, navigation, and hydro power.  Channelization removes important shallow-water spawning area and dams restrict the movement of fish. This can block River Redhorse from reaching historic spawning grounds, but some dams also restrict the movement of harmful invasive species.

Even though River Redhorse are not common anywhere, there are three Michigan river systems that still provide good habitat and support breeding populations: the Muskegon River, St. Joseph River, and Grand River.

Students at Walden Green attend school near the mouth of the Grand River, one of the last places in Michigan to find River Redhorse. By highlighting threats and suggesting ways that people can help to keep our rivers clean, the students hope to help protect this local treasure. They even came up with a “Rockin’ River Redhorse” theme poster, which emphasizes the fish’s need for clean, rocky habitat.

The River Redhorse poster is the second in Michigan Sea Grant’s Native Fish Heroes poster series. The Lake Sturgeon was the first poster created, and other teachers around Michigan have expressed interest in tackling Cisco, Smallmouth Bass, and Burbot. If you teach at a K-12 school and have a local connection to one of our fascinating native fish species, contact Michigan Sea Grant for additional details.

Download poster Big rivers, big problems

Seafood HACCP Training Course

Event Date: 12/5/2017
End Date: 12/7/2017

A Seafood Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Training Course that is being coordinated by Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission will be held December 5-7, 2017 at Ojibwa Casino Resort in Baraga, Michigan. All fish processors are required to take this training if they are not currently certified.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) consists of identifying safety hazards, determining where they occur, monitoring these points and recording the results. HACCP involves day-to-day monitoring of critical control points by production employees. The Seafood HACCP regulation that is enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is based on the belief that commercial fish processors can understand the food safety hazards of their products and take reasonable steps to control them. Commercial fish processors are required either to obtain formal training for one or more of their own employees or to hire trained independent contractors to perform the HACCP functions.

The HACCP regulation requires processors to keep extensive records of processing and sanitation at their facilities.

Those completing the course will receive a Seafood Alliance HACCP Certificate issued through the Association of Food and Drug Officials that is recognized by agencies regulating fish processors.

For registration information please contact Ron Kinnunen at kinnune1@msu.edu

Evidence of prehistoric caribou hunters found below Lake Huron

Research continues this summer on a series of targets on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in the lake.

Diver and MSU alum Tyler Schultz and 'Jake' the ROV collect samples in central Lake Huron.

Diver and MSU alum Tyler Schultz and ‘Jake’ the ROV collect samples in central Lake Huron. Photo: John O’Shea | University of Michigan Museum of Anthropologial Archaeology

In 2009 a paper was published in the National Academy of Sciences on “Evidence of Early Hunters below the Great Lakes” by researchers John O’Shea (curator of Great Lakes Archaeology at the University Of Michigan Museum Of Anthropological Archaeology) and Guy Meadows (Director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University.) These researchers found evidence of human activity on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in Lake Huron. This ridge during an extreme low-water phase would have provided a land causeway across the middle of modern Lake Huron linking northern Michigan with central Ontario.

The post-glacial history of the Great Lakes is characterized by a series of high and low water periods. The most extreme low-water period is referred to as the Lake Stanley stage in Lake Huron which occurred 7,000 to 11,500 years ago with lake levels 230 to 328 feet below modern lake levels. During this time period the Lake Huron basin contained two lakes separated by a ridge or causeway extending northwest to southeast across the basin from the area of Presque Isle, Mich., to Point Clark in Ontario, now known as the Alpena-Amberley Ridge.

Human occupation in the upper Great Lakes is associated with the drop in water level to the Lake Stanley stage and they inhabited an environment that was colder and drier than present with spruce-dominated forests. The researchers found that the problem in investigating these earlier time periods is that intact sites of early human occupation are extremely rare and the critical evidence exists beneath Lake Huron. Thus the researchers’ utilized surface-towed side scan sonar and remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) to determine whether human occupation sites were present on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge beneath Lake Huron.

The survey indicated evidence for the existence of hunting structures and human activity associated with the ridge and demonstrated a series of features that were consistent in form, construction, and placement with known caribou hunting structures. Stone constructions, such as caribou drive lanes, hunting blinds, and habitation sites of the kind seen in sub-arctic regions appear to be preserved on the lake bottom.

More recent research published in 2016 in Geoarchaeology by Elizabeth Sonnenburg (Stantec Consulting Ltd.) and John O’Shea who used ROV and diver surveys to get a closer look at the structures, investigate lake bottom conditions and visibility, and map the structures at close range. In addition sediment samples were collected for paleoenvironmental analysis. From this research a series of indicators, including distinct microfossil assemblages (such as species only found in sphagnum moss and boggy arctic ponds), rooted trees (tamarack and spruce), and charcoal (8,000–9,000 years old) revealed a series of microenvironments that are consistent with a subarctic climate.

Research that was led by O’Shea and published in a 2014 National Academy of Sciences paper revealed a newly discovered caribou drive lane which was the most complex hunting structure found to date beneath the Great Lakes. The drive lane site and its artifacts provided insight into the social and seasonal organization of prehistoric caribou hunting. When combined with environmental and simulation studies it was found that different seasonal strategies were used by early hunters on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge. Autumn hunting was carried out by small groups and spring hunts were conducted by larger groups of cooperating hunters.

This summer O’Shea will be leading a research project utilizing a submarine to ground-truth (determine facts by examining the ground for targets revealed by remote sensing) a series of targets, such as those described here, to further confirm their cultural origin and age.