Great Lakes Conference, ANR Week

Event Date: 3/6/2018

The annual Great Lakes Conference held on March 6 will investigate the opportunities and challenges our Great Lakes face. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The annual Great Lakes Conference held on March 6 will investigate the opportunities and challenges our Great Lakes face. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The Great Lakes are one of Michigan’s most valuable resources, providing countless benefits in the present and offering tremendous opportunities for the future. Learn more about the opportunities and also the challenges facing the lakes during the annual Great Lakes Conference at Michigan State University.

The 28th Great Lakes Conference is an important part of MSU’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Week. The conference will be presented 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 6, 2018, at the MSU Kellogg Center auditorium on the East Lansing campus. The conference is sponsored by the MSU Institute of Water Research, MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Michigan Sea Grant; and the Office of the Great Lakes.

Workshop presentations

This year the Great Lakes Conference will focus on topics including beach monitoring, autonomous vehicles used in research, ice cover, Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS), and more:

  • The Geomorphology and Evolution of Coastal Dunes along Lake Michigan – Dr. Alan F. Arbogast, Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing.
  • Seasonal, Interannual and Decadal Variability of Great Lakes Ice Cover – Dr. Jia Wang, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Ann Arbor.
  • Beach Monitoring using “Poop Sniffing” Dogs – Dr. Laura Symonds, Environmental Canine Services LLC, East Lansing.
  • New Aquatic Invasive Watch List Species – Sarah LeSage, Water Resources Division, MDEQ, Lansing.
  • Autonomous Vehicles in the Great Lakes for Exploration, Mapping and Environmental Monitoring – Dr. Guy Meadows, Michigan Tech Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Tech University, Houghton.
  • Forecasting Harmful Algal Blooms to Help Lake Erie Stakeholders – Devin Gill, Outreach Specialist, Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, Ann Arbor.

Registration is open

The conference is open to the public. Registration is $10 through March 1; $12 at the door (students are free). If you are a K-12 or informal educator, you may be eligible to attend the Educator Luncheon and receive a stipend in support of your participation. Educators may contact Steve Stewart via email at stew@msu.edu.

Register online and don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about our present Great Lakes and planning for the future.

Great Lakes net-pen aquaculture—real and perceived risks to the environment

Michigan Sea Grant addresses environmental issues surrounding net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes at recent Annual No-Spills Conference.

Great Lakes net-pen aquaculture—real and perceived risks to the environment

In the last several years there has been a great deal of discussion about net-pen aquaculture in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes. Much of the attention about Great Lakes net-pen aquaculture is the generation of large quantities of fish waste from these fish production operations as well as the consequences if these fish escape into the environment. The main issue with fish waste is the release of phosphorus which is the growth limiting nutrient for primary production in freshwater ecosystems. Although some phosphorus is necessary to drive the freshwater food chain, concern arises when excess amounts of phosphorus are available which can result in significant algal blooms and other aquatic plant growth. In addition there is a concern about fish diseases and genetics, which may be the consequence of the interaction of fish raised in Great Lakes net pens and native fish in the surrounding environment.

Discussing environmental issues

To address these concerns Michigan Sea Grant was invited to speak at the 28th Annual No-Spills Conference in January 2018, to discuss environmental issues surrounding net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes. Currently there are seven net-pen aquaculture operations that exist in northern Lake Huron on the Canadian side of the lake. These operations are sustainably producing more than 5,000 tons of rainbow trout per year with some being sold in retail markets in Michigan. They provide 340 direct and indirect jobs with a $100 million contribution to the Canadian economy. These net-pen aquaculture operations take up a small footprint in the environment; one of these operations that produces 500,000 pounds of rainbow trout per year would fit into an average size Michigan marina.

Fish disease risks and genetic dilution can be minimized

For Great Lakes net-pen aquaculture to be environmentally sound it must have practices that prevent disease transmission and escapement of fish into the wild, as escapees could affect the genetic integrity of surrounding fish populations. These operations must also be non-polluting with minimal and recoverable impacts. With regards to fish diseases, the commercial aquaculture industry is highly regulated and is held to the same standards as state and federal hatchery programs. Fish disease risks are minimized and prevented through regulation, biosecurity, and best management practices.

In 2014 the state of Michigan stocked more than 20 million fish, produced from gametes collected from wild fish. This equated to 325 tons of fish stocked, 9 different species, 370 stocking trips, 732 stocking sites, with 100,000 miles of travel from several fish hatcheries. In comparison Canadian net-pen operations in Lake Huron typically stock one cohort, certified as specific pathogen free, then raise the fish to harvest and truck them one way to a fish processing facility. The net results are that Michigan hatcheries have a much higher risk of disease transmission than the current system for growing trout in Canadian net pens.

The Great Lakes already have rainbow trout which are non-native to the region. They were introduced by fishery management agencies years ago and many of these fish are now naturalized, spawning on their own in local rivers, with additional enhancement from government fish hatcheries. Rainbow trout produced in Great Lakes net-pen operations can be female triploids which are sterile and will not reproduce should they escape into the environment. So the risk of genetic dilution can be eliminated by use of these female triploid rainbow trout.

Low phosphorus, digestible fish diets help minimize phosphorus waste

During the height of the Great Lakes net-pen aquaculture discussion there were media reports that a typical net-pen operation with 200,000 fish would produce as much waste as a city of 65,000 people. In reality a city of 65,000 people would produce 21 times more fecal matter than a 200,000 fish net-pen operation. This same city would produce 5 times more phosphorus compared to the net-pen aquaculture operation. The city would also generate 24 kg/yr of E. coli with none coming from the net-pen operation.

Canadians have had net-pen aquaculture operations in their northern waters of Lake Huron since 1982. To help address the issue of excess phosphorus discharge from freshwater net pens, Fisheries and Oceans Canada completed a study on Freshwater Cage Aquaculture: Ecosystems Impacts from Dissolved and Particulate Waste Phosphorus. Fish receiving digestible phosphorus in specific amounts to meet their growth requirements excrete only small amounts of dissolved phosphorus. Dissolved phosphorus is most often the form of concern in impaired waters. The other form of phosphorus excreted from fish is particulate phosphorus which settles to the bottom sediments. The particulate phosphorus which accounts for the majority of the waste from net-pen operations is transported to the bottom sediments and is not immediately available for uptake into the ecosystem. In sediments it can be consumed by the benthic organisms and enter the aquatic food chain. Both dissolved and particulate phosphorus wastes produced by fish are the results of the diets they consume. The development of low phosphorus, highly digestible diets has been a tool to help minimize phosphorus waste by aquaculture operations.

The Fisheries and Oceans Canada study found that based on net-pen aquaculture production in northern Lake Huron in 2006 contributed about 5 percent of the annual total phosphorus loading to the North Channel. The study concluded that the likelihood of phosphorus additions to the environment from net-pen aquaculture operations resulting in eutrophication to Canadian freshwater environments under the current level of fish production can generally be characterized as “low.” The greatest concerns for phosphorus are in the nearshore areas where excess aquatic plant growth can foul the shorelines. In contrast, offshore phosphorus loading is of less concern and higher phosphorus concentrations may be considered a means to help mitigate declining populations of forage fish and the poor condition of sport and commercial fish species.

Sea Grant Seeks Proposals for Aquaculture Research

Event Date: 12/15/2017
End Date: 3/30/2018

The NOAA National Sea Grant College Program 2018 Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes National Aquaculture Initiative federal funding opportunity is now open. 

Depending on appropriations, NOAA Sea Grant expects to have available a total of $7,000,000 to $11,500,000 across fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020 as part of the Sea Grant National Aquaculture Initiative (NAI). This federal funding competition is designed to foster the expansion of a sustainable U.S. ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes aquaculture sector by addressing one or more of the following priorities:

  • Supporting the development of emerging systems or technologies that will advance aquaculture in the U.S., including projects that will help stimulate aquaculture production by nascent industries.
  • Developing and implementing actionable methods of communicating accurate, science-based messages and information about the benefits and risks of U.S. marine aquaculture to the public. And
  • Increasing the resiliency of aquaculture systems to natural hazards and changing conditions.
Complete proposals are due from eligible parties to Sea Grant programs on March 2, 2018 at 5 p.m. local time. 
 
Applicants are strongly encouraged to reach out to their Sea Grant Program one to two months prior to the Sea Grant program application deadline to receive guidance regarding proposal development and discuss their proposed project(s). 
 
Proposals from Sea Grant programs are due in grants.gov by March 30, 2018
 
Please refer to the FFO for all planning and formal guidance. 
 

MSU prof seeks crowdfunding support for Great Lakes fish diet research

You can be a part of this important study by donating to support student researchers analyzing stomach samples from Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

As we all know, the Great Lakes have changed a lot in the last decade or so. Alewife have declined, round goby are increasing, and lake trout and walleye continue to recover. Chinook salmon, the heart of Lake Michigan’s fishery, have fluctuated in numbers in the past few years, and have collapsed in Lake Huron. Our fisheries agencies must make informed decisions regarding stocking and levels to support both fisheries and conservation goals. These decisions are based in part on what those predators are eating. What predators eat is an excellent indicator of ecosystem health, and can help tell us how sustainable the fishery is.

With the tremendous help of recreational anglers, MSU together with state, federal, and tribal agencies have collected nearly 2,000 predator stomachs from around Lake Michigan and Huron. We need help to be able to analyze all of them, particularly those from Lake Michigan. MSU has a wealth of potential help in terms of undergraduate students eager to gain valuable research experience. However, funding is needed to pay these students for their work.

Would you help by contributing to this research effort?

With the help of MSU CrowdPower, any donations made at the website will go directly to the predator diet study. Any donation will help, and all donations are tax deductible.

Want to stay up-to-date on the project? 

We have several other ways to connect including:

Ludington Regional Fishery Workshop

Event Date: 1/13/2018

January 13, 2018

West Shore Community College
3000 North Stiles Road
Scottville, MI 49454

Details

Lodging

There is a block of room secured at the Ludington Holiday Inn Express for the night of January 12th. Double rooms are $75/night and are first come first serve. 

Group Code: MSU
Group Block Name: Fisheries Workshop
Reservations: (231) 845-7311

Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference

Event Date: 1/27/2018

Michigan Sea Grant will be coordinating a daylong, educational program on current issues affecting the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry.

The program will run from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, 2018 as part of the Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference at the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City.

There is no charge for attending this event. For additional information please contact Ron Kinnunen at (906)-226-3687 or kinnune1@msu.edu.

See: MFPA Agenda

DNR seeks comments on Lake Michigan management plan

Event Date: 11/28/2017
End Date: 11/30/2017

November meetings in Manistique, Traverse City, and Grand Haven to share details and solicit input on proposed plan.

DNR seeks comments on Lake Michigan management plan

Fishing in Lake Michigan has had its share of ups and downs. A steady stream of invasive species led to several big changes in the lake. Sea lamprey destroyed the lake trout fishery in the late 1940s, leaving the door open for an explosion of alewife that died off en masse and became the plague of beachgoers in the early 1960s. Stocking of non-native Chinook and coho salmon created a world-class recreational fishery in the late 1960s. Fishery managers have been trying to maintain an optimal balance of predators and prey since salmon declines due to bacterial kidney disease (BKD) in the 1980s. With the explosion of new exotics like quagga mussel and round goby and decreases in open water nutrients over the past twenty years, old assumptions about the lake’s productivity are being revised.

All of this makes management a difficult proposition. States and tribes around Lake Michigan serve on the Lake Michigan Committee, which adopted Fish Community Objectives (FCOs) in 1995. The lake has changed a lot since then, and some key objectives (like total harvest of all salmon and trout species) have fallen below target levels in recent years.

Individual states have worked within the framework of the FCOs. In the past, states have accomplished this on a species-by-species basis. Now Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working to develop a more comprehensive and holistic approach to managing the lake.

Visit the Lake Michigan Management plan website to view the draft plan and submit comments online.

What to expect

The agenda for the public meetings includes:

  • Brief overview of management plan and how to comment.
  • Brief overview of zonal management.
  • Describe and discuss stocking options.
  • Have participants pick their most preferred option.

Meeting times and locations

Three meetings are planned:

  • November 28, 2017: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Comfort Inn Conference Room, 617 E. Lake Shore Dr., Manistique, MI 49854
  • November 29, 2017: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Boardman River Nature Center, 1450 Cass Road, Traverse City, MI 49685
  • November 30, 2017: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Loutit District Library, 407 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven, MI 49417

Sea Grant report on Asian carp includes educational resources

Great Lakes conservation groups will find a wealth of resources in this new publication.

By Dan O’Keefe

The Silver Carp is one of four Asian carp species that threaten Great Lakes waters.

The Silver Carp is one of four Asian carp species that threaten Great Lakes waters.

The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, in support of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, just released a report that contains a variety of resources for anyone working on education and outreach related to Asian carp. The report contains sections that provide basic information in addition to helping readers sift through the large amount of information available to find the best outreach products for their audience.

the cover of the report is shown

Understanding the threat

The new report details the four species of Asian carp that pose a threat to Great Lakes waters: Bighead Carp, Silver Carp, Black Carp, and Grass Carp. Each species is a concern, but Bighead Carp and Silver Carp get the most attention because they are filter feeders that eat plankton. This could result in direct competition with native gamefish or indirect effects if baitfish populations are harmed. Scientists are now employing a variety of techniques to learn more about these fish, and the report explains some of the headline-grabbing methods like eDNA monitoring and DIDSON sonar imaging.

Educational resources

The Sea Grant report includes a state-by-state list of fact sheets, articles, brochures, posters, online videos, and other materials related to Asian carp outreach. This is a great place to start if you are looking for materials to distribute at a boat show, club meeting, or other event. In the “Analysis of Education and Outreach” section, the report provides a quick reference chart that organizes materials by audience and message.

PowerPoint Presentation

In addition to a list of available materials, the report includes a set of slides that can be downloaded and used by educators around the Great Lakes region. Slides include basic life history information for each species, potential for economic and ecological harm, control attempts, and an overview of existing research and research gaps. Each slide contains comprehensive presenter notes, and the slide set can be modified to suit your audience.

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.