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.

Great Lakes waves can make lake viewing dangerous

Don’t get swept away this winter while sightseeing near the Great Lakes.

Waves on Lake Michigan crash over nearshore structures.  Photo: Justin Selden, Michigan State University Extension

Waves on Lake Michigan crash over nearshore structures. Photo: Justin Selden, Michigan State University Extension

Winter is a spectacular time to visit Great Lakes shorelines. Intense storms lead to massive waves crashing over breakwaters and lighthouses with stunning dark skies as backdrops. While these waves and weather make for interesting viewing, they can also be life threatening.

Drownings occur in the Great Lakes every year. According to the Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project, at least 99 people drowned in the Great Lakes in 2016. Many of these deaths happen when people swimming end up in dangerous currents such as rip or structural-caused currents. Other drownings happen because of boating or kayaking accidents. And several deaths each year occur when people are blown or washed off breakwaters, docks, cliffs and other similar nearshore structures.

The months of October, November and December are when extremely windy days will kick up massive waves across all five of the Great Lakes. On Oct. 24, 2017, one such storm swept across the northern Great Lakes. Buoys run by the Great Lakes Observation System (GLOS), a critical Great Lakes information-collecting network, recorded record wave height on Lake Superior with waves reaching an incredible 28.8 feet in height. With the waves came many sightseers eager to witness the display of force by the lake. Unfortunately, two people observing from a popular cliff-like rock formation near Marquette were swept into the lake and lost their lives.

Lake Superior isn’t the only lake where high winds and crashing waves have resulted in the loss of life. Fishermen on Lake Michigan standing on local breakwaters have been swept away or fallen into the water under high wind and icy conditions. Some folks walking or jogging along shorelines near Chicago have also fallen into the lake when large waves washed over them. The mix of high waves, strong winds, and often icy conditions can make piers, nearshore cliffs and breakwalls all dangerous structures.

Preventing these drownings in the Great Lakes can be as easy as checking the weather report. Any month of the year there is the potential for high waves in the Great Lakes. If you are headed to a Great Lakes shoreline to walk out on a breakwater, climb some nearshore rocks, or jog along a lakeshore path, it’s important to know what the predicted wave and wind patterns will be for the day. If the waves and winds will be high, then stay away from these types of areas. Be aware that icy buildups can increase your risk of falling in even on relatively calm days. It’s better to watch waves and the water from a safe distance, than to risk losing it all.

Are Great Lakes water levels headed up in 2018?

November forecast suggest higher levels heading into next year.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fall of 2017 was a very wet season in the Great Lakes region. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, basin-wide precipitation was well above normal for all of the Great Lakes during October 2017. In fact, these estimates put the monthly precipitation at 118 percent of average for Lake Superior, 161 percent of average for Lakes Michigan/Huron, 107 percent of average for Lake Erie, and 170 percent  of average for Lake Ontario. Accordingly, while the lakes generally continue seasonal decline into winter, the rate of this decline has been much more gradual.

What impact has this high precipitation had in various lakes? In late October all the Great Lakes rose slightly from the typical pattern (that is lower at the end of the month than at the beginning). Currently in mid-November, Lake Superior is hovering around its October average when it typically is a bit lower in November. Lake Michigan and Huron showed over an inch bump up around Oct. 24, 2017 – over 780 billion gallons of water across this 45,300 square mile surface area of the earth. Net basin supply estimates (the net result of precipitation falling on the lake, runoff from precipitation falling on the land which flows to the lake, and evaporation from the lake [negative net basin supply denotes evaporation exceeded runoff and precipitation]) and the outflow from the upstream lake were all above average during October.

Evaporation a factor

We know evaporation is a huge factor in lake level prediction and yet it is extremely hard to measure. The NOAA Great Lakes Research Lab and The Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research hosted a recent webinar, “Ten Years of the Great Lakes Evaporation Network: Progress Made and Opportunities for the Future” by Dr. Christopher Spence, research hydrologist from Environment and Climate Change Canada. The work done over the past decade is helpful to try to understand big and smaller years of evaporation and yet recognizes significant complexity in locating instruments on the Great Lakes. Some research-based information confirms that typically, the largest evaporation over the lakes occurs in November and December, when the lakes are still warm and the cold arctic air blasts come over the lakes.

Graphic showing lake level monthly mean averages

Graphic showing lake level monthly mean averages. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The main coordinated model for Great Lakes water levels used by the US Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t project out beyond 6 months. However, a newer product The Great Lakes Water Level Outlook, details that the high water levels of this year were accompanied by a strong seasonal rise due to wet spring conditions and high net basin supplies to the lakes. It also compares to some years when there were periods of positive net basin supply during the years 1972-1973, 1985-1986, and 1996-1997 – three scenarios representing periods of high water levels and high net basin supply throughout the year across the Great Lakes basin.

Snowpack key

Considering these scenarios, it is quite possible 2018 may be a high water year in several of the Great Lakes. One thing to watch for over the winter is the amount of system snowpack over the Lake Superior basin. Lake-effect snows are considered net-system losses (they come back long-term) but system snow pack is usually measured in March by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.  NOAA is trying to determine how much liquid water is “locked up” in the frozen snowpack, technically called snow-water equivalent. Fixed wing aircraft flying with remote sensing gamma radiation sensors at about 500 feet above the ground around the Lake Superior basin can give good estimates of snowpack. Naturally occurring gamma radiation is released from the soil under snowcover and can indicate snowdepth.

Higher lake levels impacts shoreline erosion; fall is typically the time of year for sustained storms. In fact, a Lake Superior buoy north of Marquette, Mich., measured a 28.8 foot wave at Granite Island on Oct. 24, 2017 – the highest wave ever recorded by modern buoy records (10-30 years). Significant erosion has been reported near Whitefish Point. Yet the rise and fall of the Great Lakes is still normal and key for nearshore wetland ecological health and nearshore habitat.

Here’s an overall lake level synopsis – higher levels but not all time highs. Lake Superior is 13” above its long-term average for October and 7” higher than 2016. Lake Michigan/Huron is 19” above its long term average for October and 9” above 2016. Let’s keep an eye on system snow in 2017-2018 and see what evaporative losses show – but it appears we might well be in for a higher season in 2018.

Please contact Extension educator Mark Breederland, breederl@msu.edu, for more information on living with the ever-changing dynamic coastlines of the Great Lakes.

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.

Seafood HACCP Training Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpena students learn while caring for island habitats of local community park

Elementary students tackle critical Great Lakes and natural resource conservation issues, enhance their community, and enjoy a little hands-on learning along the way.

Students review debris they recovered at Rotary Island

DenBleyker and students review debris they picked up at the island.

With the sun shining and just a short walk from school, a class of energetic students recently crossed the bridge over the Thunder Bay River to Rotary Island in Alpena, Mich. These third graders from Lincoln Elementary, Alpena Public Schools were on their way to finalize a series of environmental studies and stewardship projects. This field trip culminated a year-long study inspired by their teacher Tina DenBleyker, who has opened her classroom doors into the community to enhance student learning through hands-on environmental studies.

Applying creative place-based stewardship education (PBSE) strategies, DenBleyker engages students through hands-on community connections and environmental experiences. At the heart of their project was Rotary Island – which students ‘adopted’ and in doing so built a mutually benefiting relationship with their local Alpena Rotary Club. Supported through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network, this Lincoln Elementary educator and student team connected with community and conservation partners, including the Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau, City of Alpena, Huron Pines AmeriCorpsMichigan State University ExtensionMichigan Sea GrantNOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuaryand U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

This project illustrates a great example of how PBSE strategies enhance learning and foster community connections through environmental stewardship studies; resulting in:

  • An engaging educational opportunity. Learning about life cycles is one example of a science learning goal for third grade students in Michigan; and what better way to learn about life cycles than exploring local monarch butterflies and their milkweed habitats. Reading and writing was another significant goal in this project both as students prepared for their projects and also as they reflected and wrote about their science explorations and findings. Students also gained valuable life skills working in teams, communicating with community partners, and leadership in implementing their projects.
  • Watershed studies resulting in environmental stewardship. Students are conducting litter pickups, planting native pollinator gardens, and a variety of other efforts that enhance and beautify this island and public park. For example, the students pick up litter and tally the items found while accomplishing marine debris monitoring and prevention goals promoted by the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program and NOAA Marine Debris program. While picking up the litter, students identified issues with fishing line – addressing this issue by partnering with Michigan Sea Grant to build and install monofilament recycling bins on the Island. Finally, their monarch lifecycle studies led to learning about pollinators and an eventual partnership with USFWS to plan and plant a native pollinator garden on the island.
  • Valued community connections and contributions. Throughout the year students met and expanded their relationship with the local Alpena Rotary Club who own and manage the island. Mary Dunckel (also an MSU Extension Educator in Alpena County) provides leadership for Rotary Club, which welcomed and supports this school partnership on the island. Students learned more about the island and ways they could help when interviewing Rotarian Patrick Heraghty (Director of Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan). This partnership benefits school improvement goals and provides a community enhancement opportunity.
Alpena Elementary School students show off their completed monofilament recycling station – one of two installed on Rotary Island. Photo: Tina DenBleyker.

Alpena Elementary School students show off their completed monofilament recycling station – one of two installed on Rotary Island. Photo: Tina DenBleyker.

DenBleyker’s vision and planning for this stewardship project started last summer during the Lake Huron PBSE Summer Teacher Institute, a training sponsored by the NEMGLSI network and Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy. Here she learned about place-based stewardship education strategies; connected and traded ideas with other teachers, Great Lakes scientists and a variety of community partners; and gained resources in support of her work. DenBleyker jumped straight into PBSE programming with her students last fall with visits to the island – leveraging new partners and opportunities, navigating challenges, and celebrating successes. She shared her reflections as a new teacher getting started in PBSE during the 2017 NEMIGLSI Regional Networking Meeting. This summer she will share her experiences with new teachers as a lead teacher mentor during the very same Lake Huron PBSE Summer Teacher Institute. This year’s Institute is scheduled for August 14-18, 2017, in Alpena, and teachers interested can learn more and submit applications online. Applications are due July 27.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension serve in providing leadership for the NEMIGLSI network, which is part of a larger, statewide network and partnership, the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI). Established in 2007 with funding from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, the GLSI supports place-based stewardship education in schools and communities across Michigan. Partnerships are invaluable in our endeavor to support stewardship of our Great Lakes and natural resources. Through the NEMIGLSI network, and applied place-based education strategies, our educator partners are addressing critical Great Lakes issues.

Michigan Sea Grant storm project seeks to help communities prepare for future extreme storms

Mid-Michigan’s 2017 storm reminiscent of the 1986 Great Flood.

Flooded houses are shown in Bangor Township

Flooded houses are shown in Bangor Township. Photo: Kip Cronk | Michigan Sea Grant

On June 22 and 23, 2017 mid-Michigan was hit by a large rain event. The storm dropped 7.29 inches of rain in Mount Pleasant, 6 inches in Midland, and 3.08 inches in Bay City.

Pictures of damage in Bay, Isabella, Saginaw, and Midland counties show flooded roads, washed out culverts, damaged bridges, flooded homes, businesses, and flooded agricultural fields. Bay, Isabella and Midland counties were declared states of emergency allowing them to receive help from the state. The damages from this storm are as yet, unknown, but the 1986 Flood in the Saginaw Bay area caused about $500 million in damages.

Michigan Sea Grant and its partners have been working on a project to bring heightened awareness of extreme storms and to provide information to communities on preparing for such storms. While these suggestions are too late to help with this severe storm, there are actions communities might consider for the future in order to lessen the effects of extreme storms.

Preserve wetlands

One of the crucial functions of a wetland area is to hold excess water during storm events and let it go slowly, usually through evaporation or flowing down into the ground water table. Wetlands can hold a lot of water and that can mitigate storm impacts. This Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Wetlands Map Viewer helps identify wetland areas around the state­­.

Green infrastructure

Many developments are designed with hard materials that rain quickly runs off from and into rivers and combined storm sewers. One way to help mitigate the impact of extreme storms is to hold water on our properties in productive ways, sort of like wetlands. Rain gardens, bioswales (similar to rain gardens but designed to handle a larger amount of water), permeable pavers, green roofs, and green spaces are all ways that communities can help hold back water and reduce runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency offers a website with information to developing green infrastructure.

Protect floodplains

Rivers and streams can only hold so much water until the water flows over the bank and into an area’s natural floodplain. Leaving floodplains undeveloped is one way to store this water. Development in these areas removes the floodplain space and that water must go somewhere, which increases the impact elsewhere.

Properly construct culverts, bridges

During extreme storm events culverts and bridges are often damaged as they may not be large enough to withstand for the water overflow. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has a minor permit category for large culverts that require the structure to be built to several specific criteria including spanning a minimum of bankfull width.

Flood Insurance

Many people don’t realize they may need flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides insurance to property owners and also encourages communities to adopt floodplain management regulations.

House surrounded by water

The Saginaw Bay watershed is particularly vulnerable to storm hazards because of the region’s unique topography and land-use patterns. A complex network made up of 7,000 miles of rivers and streams, the Saginaw Bay watershed drains roughly 15 percent of the state of Michigan. This massive watershed includes both urban and agricultural lands. Because the watershed covers such a large flat area, extreme storm impacts are quickly magnified. Communities within the Saginaw Bay watershed face a major challenge in adapting to increased frequency and intensity of storm events. The website 1986flood.com shows the impact this storm had on the area and offers additional ways to prepare for extreme storms.

Having some of these infrastructure designs and practices in place may not be enough to stop the impact of a 7-inch rain event, but it could help mitigate the impacts during storm events. Michigan Sea Grant plans to continue outreach and education and will be providing webinars and a workshop in the fall of 2017 to help communities assess their coastal storm resiliency planning needs.

Drill Conductor Training Courses

Event Date: 7/11/2017
End Date: 7/13/2017

Two Drill Conductor Training courses for Great Lakes commercial fishing vessel captains offered

On-vessel drill training is held at Red Cliff Indian Reservation during one of the 2016 Drill Conductor Training courses.

On-vessel drill training is held at Red Cliff Indian Reservation during one of the 2016 Drill Conductor Training courses. Photo: Jim Thannum | Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

Commercial fishers are required to practice monthly emergency drills that cover 10 contingencies spelled out U.S. Coast Guard regulation.

Michigan Sea Grant, Wisconsin Sea Grant, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission are coordinating two Drill Conductor Training courses that will be held at Bay Mills Indian Community (Michigan) and Red Cliff Indian Reservation(Wisconsin) this summer.

These courses will help Great Lakes commercial fishing vessel captains fulfill U.S. Coast Guard regulations related to instruction, drills and safety orientations, and onboard emergency instruction.

Required training

Commercial fishers are required to practice monthly emergency drills that cover 10 contingencies spelled out in the regulation. Persons conducting these drills must have passed a Drill Conductor Training course.

Contingencies covered include:

  • Abandoning vessel
  • Fighting fire in different locations on vessel
  • Recovering an individual from the water
  • Minimizing effects of unintentional flooding
  • Launching survival craft and recovering life boats and rescue boats
  • Donning immersion suits and other wearable floatation devices
  • Donning fireman’s outfit and self-contained breathing apparatus if equipped
  • Making a voice radio distress call and using visual distress signals
  • Activating the general alarm
  • Reporting inoperative alarm systems and fire detection system

Other requirements

Both drills and instructions must be conducted each month. Operators are required to give comprehensive orientations to all new persons coming aboard before departure. Commercial fishers need to have written safety information onboard. Depending on crew size this information needs to be posted if four or more crew members are onboard or kept as an available booklet if less than four crew members. AMSEA provides copies of the required information as part of the Drill Conductor class.

Emergency instruction must identify:

  • Survival craft embarkation stations aboard vessel and survival craft to which each individual is assigned
  • Fire and emergency signal and abandon ship signal
  • If immersion suits are provided, the location of suits and illustrated instructions for donning
  • Procedures for making a distress call
  • Essential action that must be taken in an emergency by each individual
  • Procedures for rough weather at sea, crossing hazardous bars, flooding, and anchoring of the vessel
  • Procedures to be used in the event an individual falls overboard
  • Procedures for fighting a fire

Who should attend?

The commercial fishing vessel operator or captain should be the one to attend a Drill Conductor class. If space is limited, we encourage the operator or captain to be the only participant from the crew. However, if there is room in class, we encourage crew members to participate, too. Most of our classes include both operators and crew. The schedule for the upcoming classes include:

All Drill Conductor classes run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and you must register at the AMSEA web site to attend one of the Drill Conductor classes. For additional information you can contact Ron Kinnunen (Michigan Sea Grant) at (906) 226-3687 or kinnune1@msu.edu.

Training rated ‘excellent’

Last year six classes were conducted in the Great Lakes region. The Drill Conductor Training courses were evaluated by the 77 attendees who rated the training as excellent and indicated the emergency drills on actual vessels helped increase their proficiency should an emergency arise. These courses had representation from commercial fishers from Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie and also included four U.S. Coast Guard personnel needing the training for their jobs.

Learn more

Read about experiences of previous trainees: Great Lakes commercial fishers get hands-on experience in emergency procedures

Deployment of water safety equipment in the Great Lakes has saved lives

Multi-year project has placed rescue and safety kits at more than 50 Great Lakes beaches.

Water Rescue Station is shown at Northern Lake Michigan

Water Rescue Station is shown at Northern Lake Michigan. Photo: Ron Kinnunen – Michigan Sea Grant

Recently, the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium brought together water safety organizations and advocates committed to ending drowning in the Great Lakes through education, collaboration, and action at their annual conference in Sheboygan, Wis. Michigan Sea Grant presented on beach safety equipment distribution and use on high risk beaches in the Great Lakes region. The beach safety equipment was secured through a NOAA Coastal Storms Program grant.

In 2014 Michigan Sea Grant working with the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network conducted a beach equipment needs assessment, chose equipment to go in beach safety kits, and developed an equipment survey. In 2015 beach safety equipment was distributed throughout the Great Lakes region, a follow-up survey was completed, a social media messaging campaign was implemented, and assistance was provided with the formation of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium. Additional beach safety equipment was distributed in 2016 and emergency instructional placards were developed and distributed for use on rescue stations.

Water safety equipment provided to these high risk dangerous currents Great Lakes coastal communities included youth and adult life vests, rescue throw-ring buoys and throw bags, and rescue boards and tubes. These products were specified based on safety ratings, recommendations by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Life Saving Association, and first responders in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Deployment of this water safety equipment occurred at over 50 Great Lakes beaches.

Some of the 2015 Beach Safety Equipment Survey responses included:

  • “Michigan Sea Grant supported the City of Evanston’s, Illinois efforts to save 26 swimmers during the 2015 beach season.”
  • “Life-ring and throw bag were instrumental in saving the life of a 30 year old male. He jumped into Lake Michigan from the big pier in Whiting Park, Illinois. He became distressed and went into an active drowning phase. Had first responders not been armed with the life-ring and throw bag, we more than likely would have had a submerged recovery.”

The survey results showed the ranked importance of different types of water safety equipment with the rescue throw rings and bags being the most important, followed by youth and adult life jackets. There was overwhelming satisfaction with most of the equipment distributed to these high risk coastal communities. The majority of the survey respondents indicated the water safety equipment has made their beaches safer.