BOOK REVIEW: Something Spectacular: My Great Lakes Salmon Story

New autobiography from Dr. Howard Tanner, father of the Great Lakes salmon fishery, is an important contribution to the annals of history and an engaging read.

By Dan O’Keefe

Cover of Dr. Howard Tanner's book.

It would be hard to understate the impact that Dr. Howard A. Tanner had on the Great Lakes region. Tanner was at the helm of the Michigan Department of Conservation’s Fish Division from 1964 until 1966. During this brief moment in time, Tanner set the course for massive change. Ultimately, his decisions were largely responsible for not only the introduction of coho and chinook salmon, but also the shift in emphasis from commercial to recreational fisheries management on the lakes, the rise of state authority and decline of federal authority to manage these fisheries, massive changes to state hatchery systems, and the beginning of state involvement in Great Lakes fishery research.

In the court of public opinion, Tanner’s actions were heralded as a great success. Coastal tourism boomed, tackle companies flourished, and property values soared as “coho madness” drew unprecedented numbers of anglers from Michigan and surrounding states. Beaches that had been littered with the decaying bodies of invasive alewives now bore witness to the birth of a world-class fishery. The small silvery alewives were nearly worthless to commercial fishermen, but their booming population provided ample food for salmon.

This 30-second story is common knowledge around Lake Michigan. It is one of those rare moments in fisheries history that transcends the community of anglers, commercial fishers, and fisheries professionals. The oft-paraphrased “line of dead fish 300 miles long” that littered popular public beaches and prime waterfront real estate was undoubtedly a key to public interest, but the booming salmon fishery that followed also enjoyed broad appreciation due to its obvious economic impacts.

It would have been tempting for Tanner to focus only on the positive in this autobiography. Indeed, he is certainly cast as the hero of the story, but there is also a great deal of reflection on the salient criticism he received. By his own admission, he was well aware of the “firm dogma against introducing non-native species” that was based on the hard lessons and failures of the past.

Tanner’s rebuttal to his critics sometimes reads as realpolitik justification or contention that the ends justified the means. After all, we now have more resilience and stability in predator-prey balance thanks to the increased number of predatory species found in open water. However, Tanner is also very honest about his primary motivation to “do something … spectacular” and create a new recreational fishery.

It is fortunate that Dr. Tanner elected to write this book late in life (he is 95 at the time of publishing) because he was able to write with unvarnished honesty without risk to his professional position or the careers of colleagues. Of course, Tanner often references his membership in the “Greatest Generation” of WWII veterans and this context is very important to understanding the attitudes and cultural norms that enabled these decisions. Even so, some of Tanner’s stories might be judged more critically by today’s standards.

Originally, his plan to do something spectacular for Michigan’s sport fishery involved three non-native fish. From an historical perspective, the discussion of all three fish species that were considered was particularly interesting. Kokanee salmon (a landlocked form of sockeye salmon) were introduced to inland lakes in Michigan before coho salmon were stocked in the Great Lakes, based in part on Tanner’s knowledge of fisheries for stocked kokanee in reservoirs from his time in Colorado. In short, the kokanee program was a failure despite early predictions for their success. Striped bass stocking in certain Great Lakes waters was considered in addition to salmon, and Tanner details the difficult decision to destroy striped bass broodstock after they were brought to a hatchery in Michigan from South Carolina.

At the end of the day, Tanner maintains his belief that the salmon introduction was “the right decision at the right time.”  A great many anglers, coastal residents, and small business owners along the Great Lakes’ shores would agree with this wholeheartedly. Among fisheries biologists and Great Lakes ecologists, I think it is fair to say that opinions are more nuanced while state-licensed and tribal commercial fishers have more negative views (which are explored along with sport fishing views in the book Fish for All).

In addition to providing an insider’s perspective on the birth of the Great Lakes salmon fishery, Tanner provides readers with a look at his early life spent fishing for trout, deployment in the South Pacific, and his graduate research on lake fertilization. Along with providing context for his later work, these early chapters serve to remind us just how much things have changed since the early days of fisheries management.

For example, Tanner initially hypothesized that fertilizing lakes would increase trout production. After adding nutrients to a lake, Tanner observed that trout growth increased over the first summer, but there was a large fish die-off that winter due to oxygen depletion below the ice. Today we take it for granted that fertilizing glacial lakes in the upper Midwest is a terrible idea because excess nutrients lead to increased decomposition and decreases in dissolved oxygen. Early research projects like Tanner’s provided the science that led to our current paradigm of seeking to reduce nutrient inputs to lakes, as opposed to increasing them.

Mindsets change slowly, but Dr. Tanner’s tell-all autobiography paints us a vivid picture of that moment in time where everything changed dramatically and almost overnight. Those times still factor into the psyche of today’s anglers. The mix of seemingly unlimited forage, the overnight sensation of a booming fishery in response to stocking, and the equation of “more fish stocked = more fish caught” that held true for decades left a deep imprint. Now, as we collectively look toward the future, Tanner’s book provides crucial historical context for our present situation and a thoughtful exploration of the critical factors that led to his decision.

This book is available in hardcover from MSU Press for $39.95 (or ebook $31.95) at http://msupress.org/books/book/?id=50-1D0-44D9#.XD458ml7mM8

Author’s note: Looking back at my own life and career, Dr. Tanner’s influence looms large.

My decision to study Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University was based on two things: they offered a course in ichthyology (the study of fish – at the time I did not understand exactly what fisheries management entailed), and the fact that the Red Cedar River flowed through campus and supported a run of coho salmon. As a student at MSU, Dr. Tanner gave a guest lecture in a course on Great Lakes issues and I began to use the example of his decision to explain to family and friends what the field of fisheries management is all about, and how it can relate to people who don’t necessarily care about fishing.

Now, as an extension professional working with Great Lakes charter captains and recreational salmon anglers, I can attest to the fact that Dr. Tanner’s legacy is very much appreciated by people who launched their own businesses, organized their social life, and invested their savings on the promise of salmon in the Great Lakes. After half a century of salmon and the appearance of quagga mussels, spiny water fleas, round gobies, and other invaders, we are now grappling with the question of how to best balance the mix of salmon and trout species with shrinking (or a least changing) food resources.


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.

This article was written by Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Dr. Dan O’Keefe under award NA14OAR4170070 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Ottawa County features PFAS discussion at annual Water Quality Forum

Attendees learned how a broad category of chemicals known as PFAS might impact human health and heard examples of state and local government response.

By: Katelyn Brolick and Dan O’Keefe

A child's hand is shown pushing down on a drinking fountain handle in order to have water bubble up.

Drinking water contamination is another route of PFAS exposure that has been gaining public attention since the discovery of contaminated wells in Rockford and Plainfield Township last year.

This year’s Ottawa County Water Quality Forum was held on Nov. 19, 2018, in West Olive, Mich. The forum tackled many water quality issues that face county residents, including plastic pollution, saltwater intrusion into wells, and the impact of excess nutrients in local lakes. One of the bigger issues tackled at the forum was PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Dr. Richard Rediske of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute has been looking into the effects and contamination of the chemical for the past five years. Dr. Rediske addressed the Water Quality Forum and provided facts on the harmful properties of these chemicals, as well as their many uses.

PFAS exposure

According to Dr. Rediske, PFAS is a broad category of more than 4,000 different chemical compounds which includes PFOS and PFOA. These chemicals are water soluble and are highly mobile within the environment. The fluorine-carbon bonds in PFAS are the fourth strongest bonds in nature, making PFAS very difficult to break down and dispose of. These chemicals are entering the environment and human bodies through exposure to a variety of products including firefighting foam, fast food wrappers, popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and car wax to name a few. Drinking water contamination is another route of PFAS exposure that has been gaining public attention since the discovery of contaminated wells in Rockford and Plainfield Township last year.

These chemicals bind to albumin in the bloodstream and are reabsorbed by the kidneys in humans.This results in a half-life of 4 to 7 years in humans. In animal studies, rats excrete PFAS chemicals in 1 to 3 days, so scientific studies using common test organisms do not reflect the same exposure levels as humans. The risks associated with long-term exposure are not fully understood, and standards for monitoring are still under development. Possible health effects of excessive PFAS exposure include increased risk of cancer, elevated cholesterol, a compromised immune system, and thyroid disease.

Protecting Michigan citizens

To close out the forum, a panel of PFAS experts convened to answer questions from the public. Dr. Rediske was joined by Abigail Hendershott, (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), Cameron Van Wyngarden (Plainfield Township Superintendent), and Douglas Van Essen (attorney with Silver and Van Essen). Hendershott discussed what the Michigan PFAS taskforce is doing to help protect Michigan’s citizens. The taskforce is sampling all community water sources and schools that have their own water source. They are now moving on to testing daycares and some residential wells. Through testing, Robinson Elementary in Ottawa County was found at 171 parts per trillion (ppt). This exceeds the EPA’s 70 ppt recommendation for combined PFOS and PFOA. Water bottles were allocated to the school for drinking and cooking. A more permanent solution has not been discussed with the public.

Cameron Van Wyngarden discussed the solution that Plainfield Township adopted when they found their municipal sources were highly contaminated. They are now using carbon to filter all of the township’s water. Carbon filter can be an effective way to remove PFAS and PFOA from your home water tap. Douglas Van Essen added that, although PFAS are highly mobile and resistant to degradation, the human body does gradually excrete them over a period of years. This means that people can expect contamination in their bodies to gradually decline if sources of environmental exposure are cleaned up or eliminated.

Learn more

If you are concerned about your water source or would like more information on the topic the www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse site is an excellent source of information. Presentations from Dr. Rediske and other PFAS panel members are now online at the Ottawa County website.

Michigan Water School: Traverse City

Event Date: 9/17/2018
End Date: 9/18/2018

ESSENTIAL RESOURCES FOR LOCAL OFFICIALS

September 17 & 18, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Local, State and Tribal elected and appointed officials and staff wanting to gain access to resources and knowledge about water management are encouraged to attend this workshop!

INVESTIGATE:

  • Factors that impact Michigan water
  • The Blue Economy
  • Fiscal benefits of water management
  • Incorporating water into local planning and placemaking
  • Risk assessment approaches n Resources to help address water problems
  • Water policy at the federal, tribal, state, and local levels

Certificate upon completion of two-day session. Partial scholarships available thanks to funding from the Erb Family Foundation.

LOCATION: Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station
6686 S Center Hwy, Traverse City, MI

REGISTER: https://events.anr.msu.edu/waterschool09172018
$175 (Includes materials and lunch each day)

CONTACTS:

Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction in the Saginaw Bay Watershed

Event Date: 8/31/2018

Join local, state, and federal partners on Friday, August 31 at 1:30 p.m.
in the first reintroduction of juvenile sturgeon into the Cass River.

Participants may have the opportunity to help with the release. Come be part of this historic event at the Gunzenhausen Street Walkway (parking is adjacent) in Frankenmuth.

Contact

Meaghan Gass
Michigan Sea Grant
Extension Educator
gassmeag@msu.edu
(989) 895-4026 ext. 5

Farmers needed to test EnviroImpact tool

With the tool, farmers can better determine when to apply manure as a fertilizer source with lower runoff risks.

By Meaghan Gass and Erica Rogers

Farm machinery shown in a field spreading manure. Utilizing manure as a fertilizer source can be a cost-effective way for farmers to meet crop nutrient needs, and with effective application, be environmentally sustainable. Photo: Beth Ferry, MSU Extension

Utilizing manure as a fertilizer source can be a cost-effective way for farmers to meet crop nutrient needs, and with effective application, be environmentally sustainable. Photo: Beth Ferry, MSU Extension

Are you a farmer applying manure to your farm fields? Then your help is needed to test the Michigan EnviroImpact tool.

The MI EnviroImpact tool is a decision-support tool for short-term manure application planning that shows daily runoff risks across Michigan. The tool’s runoff risk forecast comes from real-time precipitation and temperature forecasts, which are combined with snow melt, soil moisture, and landscape characteristics in order to forecast runoff events. With the tool, farmers can better determine when to apply manure as a fertilizer source with lower runoff risks.

MI EnviroImpact Tool Website Screen Shot

Reducing risk of runoff

Nutrients found in manure and commercial fertilizers, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, can enter rivers and streams as runoff, and in Michigan, almost all of our waterways flow to the Great Lakes. When it rains, these nutrients have the potential to wash into nearby waterways, which can cause an excess of nutrients and lead to algae overgrowth, or harmful algal blooms. These algal blooms can have a big impact on the Great Lakes watershed as they consume oxygen that fish need to survive and can affect the quality of drinking water. With manure application planning, farmers are able reduce the risk of nutrient runoff and help better protect the Great Lakes.

Manure application is just one source of harmful algal blooms, but with proper planning, farmers can help keep applied manure nutrients on their fields and reduce runoff entering the Great Lakes.

Pilot program seeks farmers to help

Currently, tool developers are recruiting farmers to pilot the MI EnviroImpact tool. If you are interested in piloting the tool and sharing a testimonial, please contact Erica Rogers (email: roger392@msu.edu; Phone: 989-875-5233, ext. 5296). Farmer input and feedback could be used in promotional materials to highlight the tool and how farmers can use it as a decision support tool to reduce runoff risk.

The Michigan EnviroImpact Tool was developed in partnership with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration National Weather ServiceMichigan Department of Agriculture and Rural DevelopmentMichigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance ProgramMichigan State University Institute of Water ResearchMichigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension. The tool is part of a regional effort to improve runoff risk decision support tools in the Great Lakes basin supported by the Environmental Protection AgencyGreat Lakes Restoration Initiative, and National Weather Service North Central River Forecast Center.

2018 Freshwater Summit

Event Date: 10/26/2018

Michigan Sea Grant and its partners invite you to attend the 11th annual Freshwater Summit. The summit is a great place for environmental professionals and engaged citizens to network and to focus on current issues facing the Great Lakes region. 

This year the Freshwater Summit will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 26, 2018, at the Hagerty Center, 715 E. Front Street, Traverse City.

Topics for 2018 will include:

  • Great Lakes lake levels and the impact of their rapid rebound
  • Bringing the science of coastal change and resilience to the local level
  • More accurately measuring the impacts of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 
  • And additional topics surrounding our freshwater resources

Registration information will be available soon.

The Freshwater Summit is a product of the Freshwater Roundtable and is organized by The Watershed Center, Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, Michigan Sea Grant Extension, Great Lakes Environmental Center, Inland Seas Education Association, NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, and the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

Mark your calendars and save the date!

Get ready to celebrate Earth Day

Saginaw Bay region hosting hands-on activities on April 21, 2018 to celebrate Earth Day.

Litter cleanups are an easy way to protect our Great Lakes, promote healthy ecosystems and celebrate Earth Day. Photo: Stephanie Gandulla

Litter cleanups are an easy way to protect our Great Lakes, promote healthy ecosystems and celebrate Earth Day. Photo: Stephanie Gandulla

Earth Day celebrates our planet’s natural resources each year on April 22. First celebrated in 1970 with the support of Gaylord Nelson, former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day signals the launch of the modern environmental movement. From hosting events to raise community awareness about environmental issues to leading stewardship efforts, there are many ways to celebrate. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has a list of Earth Day activities around the state, and in the Saginaw Bay region, community members have many opportunities.

  • At 8:30 a.m. April 21, 2018, Bay City residents can participate in Ed Golson’s 24th Annual Compost Event, where they can pick up compost at a site under Vet’s Bridge. Compost has many gardening benefits and is an efficient way to break down organic waste. Participants must bring their own shovel and container for this self-serve event. At 9 a.m., there will be two litter cleanups hosted at Golson Park (Boat Launch) and the River Walk & Rail Trail (800 John F. Kennedy Dr.). For more information on these opportunities, please visit Bay City’s Earth Day event page.
  • Bay County Extension 4-H Tech Wizards also have an event this year in partnership with the City Market. Participating the Earth Day Bag Project, 4-H members will learn about the impact of single-use plastics on our Great Lakes and ocean and will share the information with the public by decorating paper grocery bags. The decorated bags will be given to customers April 21 at the City Market to raise awareness about the importance of refusing to single use. 
  • Volunteers also are welcome to join U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 21, in Saginaw for an Earth Day Clean-up. Participants will tally litter found, and by removing the debris, they will help improve habitat for the migratory waterfowl.
  • The Children’s Zoo in Saginaw is also hosting an Earth Day event as their season opener from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. There will be games and activities with the support of the Mid Michigan Waste Authority. The first 400 people with a recyclable beverage container will receive free admission.
  • In Midland, the 13th Annual Earth Day Expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21 at the Midland Center for the Arts. Co-sponsored by the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art, the American Chemical Society – Midland Section and Midland Recyclers, this free event offers hands-on activities connecting to the theme, “Dive into Water Chemistry.”

Celebrating our Earth and its natural resources does not need to be limited to just Earth Day. Here are some daily practices that reduce waste and also protect our Great Lakes and oceans. Using the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker Application or the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program, community members can organize their own litter cleanups, where they also collect citizen science data. Communities can help reduce marine debris by raising awareness about the common types of litter found locally.

Head to Houghton for a Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop on April 30, 2018

Event Date: 4/30/2018

Presentations include updates on several important fish issues, public encouraged to attend and provide input.

flyer describes locations and dates for annual fishery workshops

Michigan Sea Grant workshops are intended to inform the angling community and general public about fish populations and management. This year, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), our Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop will be held at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich. The workshop will feature a variety of talks from the university and management agencies of the MDNR and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The talks will help anglers and the general public understand what research is taking place on the lake and how it is informing fisheries management decisions. There will also be plenty of time for questions and answers allowing anglers to give valuable input.

The workshop will be 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. April 30, 2018, at the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University. The address 100 Phoenix Drive, Houghton, MI 49931. Parking is free after 4 p.m. at the adjacent lot 31.

Presentations (see agenda) this year will include:

  • Buffalo Reef and Stamp Sands Updates – MDEQ and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
  • Coaster Brook Trout Population State – MI Tech Great Lakes Research Center
  • Lake Trout Status, Updates, and Isle Royale Populations – MDNR Fisheries Division
  • Ghost Nets – WI Sea Grant
  • Lake Superior Angler Creel Data –  MDNR Fisheries Division
  • MI Tech Great Lakes Research and Facility Tour – Great Lakes Research Center

The Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop is free and open to all interested participants. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. Register online.

Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to learn about what is happening with the Lake Superior Fisheries!

‘Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle’ is a must-see art exhibit for Great Lakes lovers

Paintings reveal the hidden life beneath the beautiful inland seas.

If you love the waters and creatures of the Great Lakes, you won’t want to miss the chance to see the Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. But don’t delay — the magnificent art exhibit is nearing the end of its three-month run and will only be in town through April 29, 2018. After that Michiganders will have to wait until 2020 for the paintings to return to the state.

The art museum commissioned the artist to research and create five mural-sized paintings depicting the past, present, and future of the Great Lakes. Over the course of four years, Rockman traveled the Great Lakes region, met with scientists and other experts, and created this special display. Included in the exhibit are murals, watercolors, and field drawings.

Detail of a Lake Trout from Forces of Change panel

Rockman’s five mural-sized paintings are filled with information and detail. His paintings have been described as “visual essays” and indeed tell a story which invokes wonder, appreciation, and also apprehension for the future of these critical waters. It’s an important story for all of us to learn and know.

A critical resource

The Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and their connecting channels — form the largest surface fresh water system on earth. Environmental stewardship, sustainable economic development, and responsible use of the Great Lakes are crucial components of keeping the lakes and the region vibrant. Rockman’s exhibit challenges viewers to remember how actions and decisions often have ripple effects on the lakes. Several of the large panels can be “read” from left to right, telling the evolutionary story and showing scientific and cultural timelines. Reading these paintings, one can’t help but wonder what’s next for these important waters and be challenged to be a better steward of them for future generations.

For the museum visitor, drawing keys help tell the story and identify each element contained in the large panels. The museum has also created a Great Lakes bingo game to capture the imagination of children and adults, but also impart facts and knowledge. Playing the game encourages real study of the individual elements of the panels.

watercolor of wood duck with sand embelishments

The watercolors and field study drawings are magnificent as well. In the field studies, Rockman has included sand, dirt, and other elements he collected during his travels around the region. For example, his Common Snapping Turtle includes sand from Pictured Rocks, and his rendering of a wood duck includes sand from the Cuyahoga River.

Book a bonus you won’t want to miss

To add to the experience of viewing Rockman’s paintings, be sure to pick up a copy of the exhibition catalogue, which was published by the art museum in association with Michigan State University Press. The book’s essays, descriptions, and beautiful photographs make it a perfect way to enhance — and remember — the experience of standing in front of one of Rockman’s beautiful paintings. The catalogue was written by Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with contributions by Jeff Alexander and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. One suggestion would be to order and read the book first, then see the exhibit. At the very least, grab one at the museum store to study at leisure. The book also includes the detailed keys that explain each element of the large panels.

After leaving Grand Rapids, the exhibit will tour the Great Lakes region. The tour schedule will wrap up back in Michigan in 2020 with its visit to the Flint Institute of Arts. For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s website at www.artmuseumgr.org or contact Visitor Services at (616) 831-1000 or info@artmuseumgr.org.

Exhibition Touring Schedule:

Town Hall on Aquatic Invasive Species

Event Date: 4/26/2018

University of Toledo/NOAA Research Team Host Town Hall on invasive species prevention in the Great Lakes

The public is invited to a town hall meeting 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the WGTE studio, 1270 S. Detroit Ave. in Toledo, OH. 

The town-hall panel of experts includes representatives from the Toledo Zoo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maumee Bait and Tackle and Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. 

Rochelle Sturtevant, Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS) Program Manager is a panelist.