News and Events

Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trails Conference

Event Date: 11/2/2016
End Date: 11/3/2016

Conference to share practical ideas to increase tourism through fisheries heritage exhibits and experiences.

You are invited to join and participate in the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trails Conference on November 2-3 in Alpena, Mich. A great opportunity to make new connections, gain information, resources, and new ideas about how fisheries heritage can help promote education and tourism opportunities in our communities. The Besser Museum in partnership with NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, and partners of the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage network are host to this 2016 annual conference that celebrates fisheries heritage.

A networking opportunity, this conference brings together museums, resource experts and community partners to connect with Great Lakes fisheries and maritime heritage, communities and coastal tourism. Conference theme of “Netting your Audience” explores how fisheries heritage exhibits and events can better connect with community, educational and tourism audiences in sharing Great Lakes fisheries heritage experiences.

A conference highlight includes a whitefish lunch and exhibit tours at the Besser Museum, home to a growing fisheries heritage exhibit. The Besser Museum recently received the retired Lake Huron fisheries research vessel R/V Chinook from Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Lake Huron fisheries research stories reflected in this vessel will serve at the center of a future Great Lakes science heritage exhibit—and will complement the Museum’s Katherine V commercial fishing vessel and exhibits promoting commercial and sport-fishing on Lake Huron. Learn about Besser Museum’s efforts make educational and tourism connections with Lake Huron’s commercial fishing and sport-fishing’s storied past – as well as that of the science and management organizations that work to protect these fisheries.

The conference offers opportunities to learn more about Michigan’s Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Consortium projects and partnerships, including collaboration among this growing statewide fisheries heritage tourism trail network. Our Great Lakes fisheries (past, present, and future) can benefit local museum programs, promote Great Lakes literacy, enhance coastal tourism development opportunities, foster educational connections, and support community development efforts.

This two-day conference will offer:

  • Conference kick-off and networking reception begins at 1 p.m. Nov. 2, 2016, with a picnic luncheon (provided) and guided tours of Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan’s fisheries heritage educational exhibits and vessels – the commercial vessel Katherine V and recently retired Lake Huron research vessel R/V Chinook.
  • Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Consortium business meeting (open to all interested) will be held at 4 p.m. Nov. 2, 2016, at the Besser Museum. Attend and learn more about the planning and projects of this statewide network of organizations collaborating with a common interest in protecting and promoting our Great Lakes fisheries heritage.
  • Conference educational sessions begin 9 a.m. Nov. 3, 2016, at the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Join in the conversation and share ideas and experiences toward innovative educational strategies for bringing fisheries heritage stories to life – within museums, among communities, and across a Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail. Review a detailed agenda online to learn more about educational topics and contributing speakers.

Learn more and register online today

Visit the conference website to register online. This educational program is open to all those interested in promoting maritime heritage tourism and Great Lakes stewardship. To save your seat, please register by Oct. 27.

Registration is $30 ($10 for students) and includes picnic lunch and guided tours at Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan on Nov. 2 and participation in educational conference sessions with lunch on Nov. 3 There is no cost to attend the Consortium business meeting on Nov. 2.

For additional information about this educational program contact Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant Extension (, 989-354-9885).
Image of Fishery Heritage Trail historical sign

Extension Educator Opening with Michigan Sea Grant

Join the Michigan Sea Grant team as an Extension educator in the Saginaw Bay region!

The person in this position will work collaboratively with Sea Grant staff and other Extension educators to provide leadership and programming for the Saginaw Bay region. This person will work with other partners and stakeholders to support research, restoration, and educational activities related to the conservation of freshwater wetlands, water quality, fish, and wildlife habitat within Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron, and the Great Lakes ecosystem. This person will bring his or her own expertise to the table while also becoming fluent in the challenges and opportunities unique to the region.

Minimum qualifications for the position include a master’s degree in a related field of study and three years of experience delivering and evaluating educational programs. For more details about duties, qualifications, and application instructions, click here. Application review will begin on Friday, October 14, 2016 and continue until the position is filled.


This entry was posted in News.

Creating an Updated Vision for Rogers City Waterfront

Event Date: 9/14/2016

News Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Joe Hefele
City Manager, Rogers City
(989) 734-2191

[Rogers City, Mich.] – Rogers City has been selected as a case study community in developing a sustainable small harbor management strategy for Michigan’s coastal communities. A research and design team will engage the Rogers City community in a variety of exercises to identify opportunities to secure the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of public waterfront facilities and the nearby community.

Driven by input from local citizens and community leaders, the project will review a draft coastal community sustainability toolkit and create some updated vision options for the Rogers City harbor and waterfront. This will include learning from potential management strategies useful for small harbors elsewhere in Michigan and, more specifically, to assist Rogers City with identifying planning objectives that help ensure a more secure future.

The project is supported by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lawrence Technological University, Edgewater Resources, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, and Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Public Meetings for Sustainable Harbor Visioning

Initial Visioning Meeting
6–8 p.m. Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Rogers City Theater
257 N. 3rd Street, 49779

Community Design Charrette
October 25–27, 2016
Presque Isle District Library Rogers City
181 E. Erie St.

Benefits to Rogers City

As one of six case study communities, Rogers City will benefit from in-depth visioning assessment — typically valued into the tens of thousands of dollars — at no direct cost. The project team will host an initial meeting and then a three-day public planning meeting, or “community design charrette,” to garner feedback, develop ideas, and create a sustainable vision for the Rogers City waterfront and nearby areas.

Share Your Vision

Developing a vision for a sustainable harbor requires input from a wide range of stakeholders including landowners, waterfront users, planning officials, chamber of commerce members, and local citizens. To share your vision, please attend upcoming public meetings to collaboratively develop a plan for the Rogers City waterfront.

The initial visioning meeting is scheduled for 6–8 p.m. Wednesday, September 14, 2016, at the Rogers City Theater (257 N 3rd Street, Rogers City). Those who attend the initial meeting will have the chance to weigh in on the future of the Rogers City waterfront and will help identify assets linked to existing or potential public waterfront uses and/or facilities. Discussion will include pedestrian access, harbor use, and linking the waterfront to downtown and commercial areas.

In the community design charrette scheduled for October 25–27 at the Presque Isle District Library – Rogers City (181 E Erie St, Rogers City), participants will assess and prioritize design and planning options. The result will be a preliminary vision for the public waterfront of Rogers City 2036. The three-day design charrette will include small working groups (by invitation) and public sessions. A detailed agenda will be made available on the project website as the event date draws near.

Additional Contacts:

Mark Breederland
Educator & Facilitator
Michigan Sea Grant Extension
(231) 922-4628

Dan Leonard
Northeast region Community Assistance Team
Michigan Economic Development Corporation
(989) 387-4467

Dr. Donald Carpenter, P.E.
Project Manager
Lawrence Technological University
(248) 204-2549

Sea Grant 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the work of our Extension educators

Bringing stakeholders together is an important part of Sea Grant’s mission, says Dan O’Keefe

Dan O'Keefe talks about Salmon

Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator Dan O’Keefe explains how to fillet a fish to campers at the 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

In 2016, the National Sea Grant College Program celebrates 50 years of putting science to work for America’s coastal communities.

Our Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators live and work in coastal communities around Michigan. We celebrate their hard work and take this opportunity to introduce each of them during this anniversary year.

Dan O’Keefe is located in Ottawa County and serves eight counties along the coast of Lake Michigan. He has been an Extension educator for nine years. Dan graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s of science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. He received his master’s in biology at Central Michigan University and his doctorate in Wildlife and Fisheries from Mississippi State University.

What made you decide to be an Extension educator?

I have always enjoyed teaching, so the idea of being an educator was naturally appealing. My previous work in fisheries research also convinced me that education is a critical component of natural resource management. Natural resources are managed by government agencies that act on behalf of the public. If people are not well-informed they can influence management decisions in ways that are actually against their own interests in the long run.

How has Michigan Sea Grant made a difference to Great Lakes fishing?

We have been involved in aquatic invasive species education and prevention, documenting the economic impact of fishing-related industries, and development of new ways to market commercially caught Great Lakes fish. We have also partnered with other groups to restore spawning reefs, bring surface temperature maps to big lake anglers, and improve the design of fishing access sites. In recent years, Sea Grant has been instrumental in citizen science projects that enable anglers to collect data on Lake Huron fish diet and the prevalence of wild salmon in Lake Michigan.

I think the most important aspect of our work is less obvious, though. Over the past few decades, Michigan Sea Grant has worked to bring anglers, fisheries biologists, coastal community leaders, and lake managers together. The results are not always clear-cut, but the goal is to arrive at resource management decisions that are both socially acceptable and based on sound science. Meetings and surveys leading up to the 2012 decision to reduce Chinook salmon stocking were a good example of this. Support for the 50 percent stocking cut was nearly unanimous because of good public process, educational efforts, and the sound scientific basis for the cut.

What challenges does your area of the state face as you look to the future?

Last year, recreational harvest of Lake Michigan fish was the lowest it has been since coordinated recording began in 1985. Coastal communities are very concerned that tourism could fall off sharply if fishing continues to decline.

How will you and Michigan Sea Grant help?

I have been involved in studying the reasons for the decline of fishing-related tourism after the collapse of Lake Huron’s salmon fishery, and that experience has much to teach us now that Lake Michigan is facing a similar (but not identical) situation. I think that we may be able to avoid a collapse on Lake Michigan, but we need a good collaborative decision-making process to involve anglers and other stakeholders in making difficult choices related to the future of the fishery.

Sea Grant has always encouraged people to take a big-picture view of issues that have social, economic, and biological aspects. In the case of Lake Michigan, we must begin to manage multiple fish species in a more coordinated manner. This is much more difficult from a technical standpoint than single-species management, and it will also be more difficult in terms of stakeholder engagement.

Do you have any advice for students who might want to pursue a career with an environmental focus?

Don’t expect other people to do things that are not in their own self-interest. Many students prepare for careers in conservation, environmental protection, or natural resource management because of their desire to create a more sustainable world. To be successful, it is important to accept other people where they are at and address them in ways that respect their value systems.


Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership that turns research into action by supporting science-based, environmentally sustainable practices that ensure coastal communities remain engines of economic growth in a rapidly changing world. There are 33 programs across the country working to help build and grow innovative businesses along America’s oceans and Great Lakes, protect against environmental destruction and natural disasters, and train the next generation of leaders.

Established in 1969, Michigan Sea Grant, is a collaboration between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. We offer research, education and community outreach on topics such as aquatic invasive species, coastal development, commercial and sports fishing, and environmental stewardship for youth.

AmeriCorps positions offer Extension opportunities for college grads

Event Date: 9/5/2016
End Date: 9/30/2016

By Steve Stewart and Brandon Schroeder


Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are collaborating with Huron Pines to recruit and work with AmeriCorps members in both southeast and northeast Michigan. Applications are now being accepted, and the deadline to apply is September 30.

If you are interested in conservation, want to make a difference, and develop your professional skills, consider joining the Huron Pines AmeriCorps team. Huron Pines AmeriCorps is designed to provide Michigan conservation organizations with highly qualified individuals for a term of volunteer service. The program not only improves a conservation organization’s ability to protect Michigan’s natural resources, but it also provides members with real-world experience and training. With a living stipend and some attractive benefits, this program provides an opportunity to develop as a resource professional in the conservation community. AmeriCorps members will be placed throughout Michigan with a variety of organizations. Member activities include volunteer engagement, habitat restoration, environmental stewardship, and developing new conservation services. Learn more about these opportunities and apply at

In southeast Michigan, the MSU Extension (Sea Grant)—Education and Outreach Coordinator will work primarily in Macomb County and will be integral in broadening the reach of three successful programs: the Great Lakes Education Program (GLEP), serving upper elementary/middle school students and teachers; Summer Discovery Cruises (SDC), addressing the need for public education and stewardship; and Water Conservation (WC) education, serving lower elementary students and teachers. These three programs engage schools, educators, students, and the public in Great Lakes-focused experiential learning that moves participants forward in understanding their roles as Great Lakes stewards and in taking subsequent stewardship actions.

In northeast Michigan, the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative—Education Coordinator will work primarily out of Alpena County and will support new and existing place-based education (PBE) stewardship service projects in connection with schools, youth-based development groups, and community partners participating in the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network. The Education Coordinator will plan and implement student-driven environmental stewardship projects; provide professional development opportunities connected to PBE inquiries; and identify and build relationships with community partners.

Students aren’t the only learners on a schoolship

By Steve Stewart

This fall, the Great Lakes Education Program (GLEP) will conclude its 26th year of classroom and vessel-based education in southeast Michigan. We usually think of the student participants and their teachers when we think of GLEP education, but approximately 15 percent of all participants are adult chaperones who accompany the class. In May and June, more than 200 adult chaperones joined us on the water as we conducted educational cruises on both Lake St. Clair/Clinton River and Lake Erie/Detroit River.

Each school group is divided into four sub-groups, as there are four learning stations on our schoolships. We encourage teachers to bring four chaperones per class. Chaperones serve the important role of sub-group leaders. As such they help the student groups move around the boat, record test results on our data sheets, and experience each learning station, too.

In 1999, a Michigan Sea Grant-funded research project found that GLEP chaperones had higher scores in both knowledge and positive behavioral intentions regarding the Great Lakes than did parents/guardians of students who did not serve as chaperones. So we know that it is not just the students who benefit from participation. But what did this spring’s chaperones think of the program? Following their GLEP education experience, chaperones are asked to complete an anonymous evaluation survey and 18 percent participated.

As is the case with teachers, one set of questions asked chaperones to assess individual learning activities conducted on the GLEP schoolship. Activities included conducting water chemistry tests, taking samples from the lake bottom, towing a plankton net, and using navigation charts. For most chaperones, this is the first time they’ve done these activities. They were asked to rate each learning activity on a 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent) scale.

The results? Activities received ratings ranging from 3.6 to 3.8. They also provided an overall program rating reflecting its educational value to students, and the average response was 3.9. Chaperones were also asked to compare their GLEP education experience with other experiential education opportunities. More than 57 percent rated it “Much Better” with another 34 percent rating it “Better.”


Chaperones were asked to rate each on-board learning activity on a 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent) scale. Activities received ratings ranging from 3.6 to 3.8.

Chaperones are always encouraged to share open-ended comments about the program as well. Among the comments received this spring were the following.

  • The kids in my group had a great time doing all the activities. I did as well. I grew up on a lake and I learned a lot on this trip.
  • This field trip was a true learning experience for all of us, plus it was fun. I really enjoyed being a chaperone for this trip!
  • This kind of hands-on learning is memorable, and impossible in a classroom.
  • I graduated from high school [in] 2013 but remember this trip from the 4th grade. I loved it then and I love it now, and I was excited to attend this year with my younger cousins!

Registration is now open for the fall 2016 Great Lakes Education Program season, which runs from early September through October. For more complete information on the program, the fall season calendar, our locations, cost, and how to register, simply go to the Great Lakes Education Program website.

Read more in this series:
Part 1: Great Lakes Education Program gets high marks from teachers

This entry was posted in News.

Setting the record straight on alligator gar and Asian carp

Reintroduction of gar has nothing to do with Asian carp, Illinois DNR says

Researchers in Illinois used gastric lavage to flush stomach contents from young alligator gar to find out what the fish eats. Photo credit: Nathan Grider

Researchers in Illinois used gastric lavage to flush stomach contents from young alligator gar to find out what the fish eats. Photo credit: Nathan Grider

On May 31, 2016, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to adopt a resolution urging the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to expedite the reintroduction of alligator gar and develop protections for all four native gar species. The Illinois House of Representatives had unanimously passed the same resolution three weeks earlier. This resolution specifically states that “alligator gar is our only native species capable of eating adult Asian carp.”

According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Chief of Fisheries Dan Stephenson, this statement is misleading. Under his leadership, IDNR moved to reinstate the stocking program in January of 2016 after a two-year hiatus. Stephenson states, “Our stockings have never had anything to do with Asian carp. We see this as an opportunity to bring back a native species from extirpation, add an apex predator and introduce a potentially very large sportfish for our anglers.”

Earlier reintroduction efforts in Illinois provided an opportunity to study young gar in floodplain lakes where they were stocked. From 2010 to 2013 a total of 6,000 alligator gar were stocked in Illinois, but of these only 1,500 were large enough (12-18 inches) to avoid predators and survive. That is a proverbial ‘drop in the bucket’ relative to Asian carp that are measured in terms of tons per river mile.

According to Stephenson, “It’s a numbers game and the alligator gar will never be found in the numbers to suppress the [Asian carp] population. In addition, the gape on an alligator gar, even a very large one, will not allow the fish to take very large prey. So for the first three months of the Asian carp’s life it would be susceptible to alligator gar predation but after that they are too large.”

Research on young gar stocked in Illinois supports this. Nathan Grider studied alligator gar diet as part of his thesis work at University of Illinois Springfield, under the direction of Dr. Michael Lemke. At Merwin Preserve, the only prey item found in 17 alligator gar stomachs was gizzard shad. Gizzard shad were the most abundant species at the preserve and Asian carp were extremely rare. Largemouth bass, crappies and various species of sunfish were common, but none of these popular gamefish were found in the stomachs of Illinois alligator gar.

Young alligator gar at Merwin Preserve in Illinois ate shad ranging from 4 to 10 inches long. Although gar in the Illinois study were not full-grown, earlier research from the Gulf Coast suggests that alligator gar in the 4 ½ to 7 foot range also prefer to eat fish that are only 8 to 12 ½ inches long. Grider, who now works for Illinois DNR, states that alligator gar, “would not turn down the opportunity eat an Asian carp of appropriate size, up to 12.5 inches or so. But the reality is that there will simply not be enough of them to put noticeable pressure on the dense Asian carp population in our expansive open river system and Asian carp can quickly outgrow their preferred prey size.”

There you have it. Alligator gar are not being stocked to save us from the advance of Asian carp, but perhaps all of this media attention will ultimately help people appreciate alligator gar for what they are. In the past they were seen as a threat to gamefish, but gar are native predators that typically prey on abundant non-game fish like shad.

Alligator gar also are impressive gamefish in their own right. As Stephenson puts it, “regardless of the Asian carp impact, the reintroduction of alligator gar is a great story.”

When is a minnow not really a minnow?

More than 50 minnow species call the Great Lakes home, but not all small fish are minnows.

In all, there are more than 50 species of minnows (a group of many fish species scientifically classified as ‘minnows’) found across our Great Lakes waterways. A variety of shiners, daces, minnows, and chubs offer examples of sub-families (groups of similar fishes within the family) of the small silvery fish that we commonly think of when we say ‘minnow.’ These species are diverse with many descriptively colorful names such as sand, spottail, blacknose, or emerald shiners. Also fathead and bluntnose minnows, northern redbelly and pearl dace, and creek, river, and horneyhead chubs – just to name a few.

Take a closer look, these fish are not minnows – not all small fish are truly minnows, or related with the scientifically classified ‘minnow’ family. Photos: Brandon Schroeder

Take a closer look, these fish are not minnows – not all small fish are truly minnows, or related with the scientifically classified ‘minnow’ family. Photos: Brandon Schroeder

You may have had a goldfish in your home aquarium or a colorful koi in your backyard water garden never realizing you were raising minnows. That’s right, goldfish are a member of the minnow family and closest relative to the largest growing minnow species found in Michigan – the common carp, which were brought to the U.S. from Europe in the late 1800s. Both goldfish and common carp are non-native, introduced species – and also a relative to the invasive Asian carp (bighead and silver carp) migrating up the Mississippi River.

Not all small fish we see are necessarily minnows. Muskellunge, Chinook Salmon and Lake Trout all start their life cycle as a very tiny fish egg and then larval fish fry. Many species of small-sized juvenile fishes such as suckers and perch also can be found ‘schooling up’ in groups nearshore. Even the prehistoric Lake Sturgeon, achieving sizes of 200 to 300 pounds as Michigan’s largest fish, begins life as a larval fish measured only in few millimeters. Round gobies are a widely recognized invasive fish found throughout the Great Lakes and although small, gobies are not minnows.

Other small fish species commonly found across Michigan’s waterways include alewife, gizzard shad, brook silversides, and rainbow smelt – none of which are related within the minnow family. Rivers and lakes often serve as nurseries for juvenile suckers of many species, often confused for minnows until you take a closer look at their bottom ‘sucker’ mouths. Brook sticklebacks, banded killifish, and mudminnows are often discovered in slower-moving streams, wetlands, and smaller lakes. Yet even when ‘minnow’ is part of their names, these small fish species are unrelated to minnows.

Adding to the identification challenge, not all minnows are silver, either. Goldfish and koi have been bred for their brilliant colors; and even in the wild, minnows such as pearl dace or northern redbelly dace brighten our rivers with their brilliant colors during breeding season. Arguably, some of Michigan’s most brightly colored fish found in the wild are known as darters. Several species of darters inhabit our waters including logperch, rainbow, greenside, and johnny darters. These small fish at their largest sizes never reach more a few of inches, yet despite their size, they are not minnows and rather closer cousins of Michigan’s more prized (and much larger) perch and walleye.

This biodiversity (or wide variety) of minnows and many other small fish species may often go unnoticed yet they provide important ecosystem functions. They represent an important part of the food chain as they are often a food source for larger predator fishes. This wide world of small fish adds their own variety to life through the many different habitats, adaptations, and life characteristics reflected in each species – which makes them simply fun to explore in their own right.

Learn more about using scientific keys to identify Great Lakes fish or visit Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Fish Identification website to discover what species of fish you may have found. Michigan Sea Grant also offers a variety of fisheries posters and publications about Great Lake fish. Hopefully, the next time you see a small fish you’ll be better equipped to ask yourself if it is a minnow, a different species of small fish, or a juvenile fish aspiring to someday become a great trophy-size adult.

Campers experience a bird in the hand at 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp

Bird biologists demonstrate mist-netting capture techniques used to study bird populations, behavior, and health.

By Brandon Schroeder, Andrew Dennhardt and Kim Fake

Campers experience science techniques used to sample and study for birds using mist nets with Michigan State University researchers.

Campers experience science techniques used to sample and study for birds using mist nets with Michigan State University researchers. Photo: Cindy Hudson | Michigan Sea Grant

Youth participating in the 2016 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources (GLNR) Camp had the opportunity to test their wings as aspiring ornithologists (bird biologists). Learning about bird ecology, biodiversity, and conservation were the goals for these campers who gained eyes-on experience while searching northern Michigan habitats and identifying more than 40 bird species as they worked alongside avian ecologists from Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

This year the week-long 2016 4-H GLNR Camp, held annually in Presque Isle County at Camp Chickagami, provided hands-on learning experiences engaging 65 youth, ages 13-15, in exploring science, leadership, careers and, of course, recreation, related to Michigan’s Great Lakes and natural resources. The 4-H GLNR Camp, an MSU pre-college program, is sponsored by Michigan State University Extension4-H Youth Development, Michigan 4-H FoundationMichigan Sea Grant, and MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, along with several other community partners.

Each morning during camp, teens participated in a variety of Great Lakes and natural resource science sessions relating to watersheds, fisheries, woodlands and wildlife, bird ecology, a climate expedition, and more. The bird ecology session offered a chance for campers to turn their eyes, ears, and minds to the skies while learning what it means to be an ornithologist.

Birds of a Feather science sessionbirding photo (GLNR Camp 2016) full size

Campers experienced first-hand how researchers use mist nets (hard-to-see netting set up roughly like volleyball nets) to capture flying birds for scientific study. Northern cardinals, blue jays, and Eastern phoebes were among the species captured in nets during early morning sampling; and youth experienced a rare opportunity to assist in identifying and recording data on each species. Once captured, campers learned about handling the birds safely and properly, as well as the wide variety of scientific data that might be collected from a bird such as species, age, body condition, weight, and more before releasing the birds back into the wild. Youth also explored northern Michigan habitats alongside experienced birders, learning how to identify a variety of bird species by sight and sound, as well as the unique life cycles and adaptations of birds.

Led by Andrew Dennhardt and Kim Fake, MSU Fisheries and Wildlife graduate students, and aided by Kirsten Johnson, a graduate student from the Department of Biology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Cindy Hudson from Michigan Sea Grant, campers learned about ornithological careers, as well as how science is used to better understand and respond to threats to bird populations such as habitat loss and fragmentation, predation by domestic and feral cats, disease and pesticides, or climate change.

Hands-on science and career explorations, environmental stewardship and recreating in Michigan’s outdoors – all are part of this 4-H camp experience. Youth gain a new perspective and appreciation of Michigan’s Great Lakes and natural resources; and perhaps their own roles as environmental stewards and future community leaders. And who knows, perhaps the next generation of avian ecologist will fledge from this camp experience!

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Fast facts on Lake Michigan salmon and trout

Fisheries managers issued a new proposal to reduce stocking of Chinook salmon and lake trout. Anglers should get the facts before deciding how to react.


By Dan O’Keefe

Many anglers, charter captains, and community leaders along the shores of Lake Michigan are wondering how a reduction in Chinook salmon stocking might affect fishing and tourism. Some question the need for a stocking reduction, some believe that stocking of another predator (lake trout) should also be reduced, and many are reporting that this year’s fishing has been a big improvement over 2015.

In June, fisheries agencies issued a proposal to reduce Chinook salmon stocking in Lake Michigan by 62 percent. That proposal was recently revised to include a 50 percent reduction in Chinook salmon stocking and additional measures to decrease lake trout stocking by about 21 percent and increase lake trout harvest. The Michigan DNR will host public meetings on Sept. 7 in Ludington and Sept. 13 in South Haven to discuss details of the revised proposal and hear comments.

Before forming an opinion on the new proposal it is worth considering the latest science on the state of the Lake Michigan fishery.

 Most Chinook salmon caught in Lake Michigan are wild

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes Mass Marking Program, wild-spawned Chinook salmon made up 71 percent of the Chinook catch for Michigan anglers in 2014-2015. In Wisconsin waters, wild Chinooks made up 53 percent of the catch.

Even ports that are not near spawning rivers rely mostly on wild fish

Grand Haven is a good example of a southern Michigan port that does not support natural reproduction. Volunteers with the Salmon Ambassadors program found that 74 percent of Chinook salmon caught in the Grand Haven area in 2015 were wild. More than 90 percent of the stocked fish caught in Grand Haven were stocked elsewhere.

Alewife are at a historic low

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center’s bottom trawl survey found that yearling and older alewife biomass density dropped to 0.14 kg/ha in 2015, the lowest since monitoring began in 1973. This does not mean that alewife completely disappeared from the lake, but it does mean that less food is available for predators in open water. Also, Age 8 alewife were once common, but no alewife over Age 6 were found in 2015 surveys.

Last year the fishery appeared to be on the brink of disaster

The Predator-Prey Ratio for Chinook salmon and alewife was 0.108 in 2015. This means less than ten pounds of prey per pound of predator in Lake Michigan, which is similar to Lake Huron before the collapse. Ecosystems cannot support such a predator-prey imbalance for very long. Although the situation may have improved this year judging by angler reports, the Predator-Prey Ratio is based on a variety of data sources that take time to collect and analyze. The ratio for 2016 probably will not be available until March of 2017.

Chinook salmon eat more prey fish than lake trout

According to Michigan DNR consumption estimates, lake trout consumption of prey fish rose from 14.9 kilotons (kt) in 2011 to 23.1 kt in 2015. However, Chinook salmon consumption is still higher than lake trout (33.1 kt). Anglers and biologists realize that lake trout are increasingly important in terms of their impact on prey fish, but Chinooks are still “kings” when it comes to bait consumption.

Lake trout do not eat more alewife than Chinook salmon

Chinook diet is around 95 percent alewife while lake trout diet is typically 60 percent alewife or less, so in 2015 Chinook salmon consumed over 30 kt of alewife in Lake Michigan while lake trout consumed less than 14 kt of alewife.

Lake trout are not entirely dependent on alewife

According to a recent USFWS stable isotope study, lake trout rely more heavily on offshore bottom-dwelling prey than Chinooks do. Sculpin and goby are examples of bottom-dwelling fish have been doing better than alewife since the invasion of quagga mussels and related food web changes.

Lake trout are not managed by the federal government

A federal agency (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service [USFWS]) does rear lake trout in hatcheries, but does not ultimately make decisions regarding the total number of lake trout stocked in Lake Michigan. State and tribal agencies on the Lake Michigan Committee (under the auspices of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission) arrive at consensus on stocking decisions.

The 2000 Consent Decree does influence stocking, harvest, and management of a variety of fish species in 1836 Treaty waters. The USFWS is a party to the 2000 Consent Decree along with five tribes and the state of Michigan, and the USFWS is also a member of the Technical Fisheries Committee. The role of USFWS is to provide technical assistance. Management decisions are made by state and tribal governments.

Stocking in public waters of Michigan must ultimately be approved and permitted by Michigan Department of Natural Resources. However, lake trout stocking in northern Lake Michigan portions of the 1836 Treaty waters is required by the 2000 Consent Decree to reflect an “expanded commitment to lake trout rehabilitation” and avoid lowering the established lake trout harvest limit.

Lake trout stocking was already being reduced as of 2015

In 2015, the Lake Michigan Committee approved a lake trout stocking reduction of 550,000 fall fingerlings (220,000 yearling equivalents). This reduction is being implemented in fall of 2016 independent of any Chinook salmon cut or additional measures related to lake trout.

The role of science

No matter which side of the argument you are on, it is important to support your position with the best available information. All of the statements above are based on the best available scientific information – but scientists will be the first to point out that “best available” does not mean perfect. Science is always improving, and scientists are always looking for better ways to make sense of patterns in the natural world.

Understanding the best available science is only the first step toward good decision-making, but it is an important one. Science does not dictate or result in a specific decision, but it can inform us of the risk associated with different options. In this case, we face a greater risk of alewife and salmon collapse over the long term if we do not reduce stocking. In the short term, severe stocking cuts could have a noticeable effect on catches in some areas of the lake. Good science will help us assess the relative risks, but ultimately we must decide which risks are acceptable and which are not.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.