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.

IPPSR Forum: Great Lakes Health

Event Date: 3/28/2018

Major threats to the world’s largest freshwater resource – the Great Lakes – will be on topic at the next Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research’s Public Policy Forum.

The Forum is set for Wednesday, March 28 at 11:30 a.m. It is free, and the public is encouraged to attend.

“The Great Lakes have long come under financial and environmental pressure,” said IPPSR Director Matt Grossmann. Forum panelists will explore the lakes’ connections to human and economic health and look at recommendations for continued restoration efforts, he said.

Threats to continued funding have sparked major questions about the region’s ability to battle toxic and nutrient pollution, invasive species and habitat decline.

Panelists include:

  • Rick Hobrla, Program Manager for Areas of Concern and Great Lakes Coordination, Office of Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • Anthony Kendall, Assistant Professor, Landscape Hydrology, MSU College of Natural Science.
  • Rochelle Sturtevant, AIS Outreach – Michigan Sea Grant, GLANSIS Program Manager – NOAA.
  • Ron Kinnunen, Senior District Extension Educator, MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

All IPPSR Forums take place in the Mackinac Room, 5th floor of the Cora B. Anderson House Office Building (HOB) at 124 N. Capitol Avenue in downtown Lansing. A light luncheon is served, making reservations necessary. Reserve online or call 517-355-6672 to register.

IPPSR’s spring 2018 lineup of Public Policy Forums stretches to five this year. Upcoming topics yet this spring are:

  • Career and Technical Education, Wednesday, April 18, 2018.
  • Michigan Foster Care and Group Homes, Wednesday,  May 2, 2018.

IPPSR is part of MSU’s College of Social Science and is the home for the Michigan Political Leadership Program, the Office for Survey Research, the State of the State SurveyState of the State Podcast , Michigan Policy Insiders Panel and the Correlates of State Policy.

CONTACT: AnnMarie Schneider, Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, annmarie@msu.edu517-353-1738; Cindy Kyle, IPPSR, kylec@msu.edu517-355-6672

Bay Mills Community College to partner with MSU Extension to perform Great Lakes research

College to use $216K grant to study contaminants, biodiversity in their local waters.

Bay Mills Community College was awarded $216K to help fund research of Waishkey Bay. Photo: Bay Mills Community College

Bay Mills Community College was awarded $216K to help fund research of Waishkey Bay. Photo: Bay Mills Community College

Looking out over the pristine headwaters of the Upper Saint Mary’s River, the main campus of the Bay Mills Community College (BMCC) is located between the sole outlet of Lake Superior and Waishkey (Waiska) Bay in the heart of the Bay Mills Indian Community. The Bay is an important recreational and cultural resource for members of the Bay Mills Indian Community and its neighbors, as well as for the many tourists who visit the area.

BMCC recently was awarded $216K to help fund research of Waishkey Bay. BMCC’s project will study contaminants in the Bay, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and micro plastics. The project will also study the biodiversity of the bay including surveying all mussel species present. Mussels, like clams and oysters, are good indicators of a water bodies health and many mussels in Michigan are threatened or endangered. ­­­

The project will engage the students at BMCC in assisting with the research as well as several partner organizations. These partners include Lake Superior State University’s Environmental Analysis Lab and Wayne State University’s Lumigen Instrument Center, which will be performing chemical analysis on samples collected. Bay Mills Indian Community’s Biological Services Department will assist with training and sample collection and Michigan Sea Grant, a program of Michigan State University Extension and the University of Michigan will serve as coordinators for education and outreach to the local community.

Despite conservation efforts, the red swamp crayfish has established a foothold in Michigan

National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Part 5: More than 5,000 red swamp crayfish have been removed, but battle continues.

Native to the southern Mississippi basin and Gulf Coast, red swamp crayfish have now been found in other parts of the U.S. including locations in the Great Lakes. Photo credit: USGS

Native to the southern Mississippi basin and Gulf Coast, red swamp crayfish have now been found in other parts of the U.S. including locations in the Great Lakes. Photo credit: USGS

National Invasive Species Awareness Week this year is Feb. 26 to March 2, 2018. The goal is to draw attention to invasive species and what individuals can do to stop the spread and introduction of them. This effort is sponsored by a diverse set of partners from across the country. To increase awareness of Michigan’s invasive species, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are publishing a series of articles featuring resources and programs in our state working on invasive species issues.

Today’s article brings an update on the invasive red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). Prior to July 14, 2017, no live red swamp crayfish had been found in Michigan although carcasses were found at a popular fishing site on the Grand River and Lake Macatawa in 2013 and 2015, respectively. However, in July 2017 red swamp crayfish were confirmed living in large numbers in a storm water retention pond in Oakland County as well as in Sunset Lake in Kalamazoo County.

According to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) this invasive crustacean can be up to 5 inches long including claws, although the Michigan Department of Natural Resources found individuals nearly 9 inches in 2017. Red swamp crayfish have a dark red body, claws with spiky, bright red bumps and a black wedge-shaped stripe on their underside.

Spreading through the U.S.

The red swamp crayfish is native to the Mississippi River drainage and the Gulf Coast and likely came to the Great Lakes by anglers who bought live crayfish intended for food and used it as bait or through the aquaculture industry. The Lake Erie introduction may have been intentionally released in an effort to establish populations that could then be harvested for consumption. In addition to its native range in the southern U.S., invasive populations of red swamp crayfish are now found scattered across over two dozen states.

red swamp crayfish is shown

In 2013, Michigan began prohibiting the sale of live red swamp crayfish for bait but they were still allowed for food. In 2015, Michigan law changed to prohibit the possession of all live red swamp crayfish regardless of intended purpose. Despite the regulatory actions taken, the first known establishments of red swamp crayfish in Michigan were reported in 2017. These infestations represent significant threats to Michigan’s aquatic systems. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division has developed a red swamp crayfish response plan which includes a monitoring strategy to determine the geographical distribution of infestations, working to limit new introductions, and conducting experiments to determine and implement effective chemical controls. To date, MDNR has removed over 5,000 individual crayfish.

According to MISIN, red swamp crayfish can be a host for parasites and diseases and can carry crayfish fungus plague. Once they become established, they can negatively impact an ecosystem due to its diet, which includes plants, insects, snails, fish and amphibians. It also aggressively competes for food and habitat with native crayfish and other species. This species of crayfish also digs burrows that can jeopardize shoreline stability and lead to erosion issues.

Help stop the spread

You can prevent the spread of red swamp crayfish by:

  • helping to educate others about identifying and preventing their spread.
  • Practicing the Clean, Drain and Dry method for watercraft prior to moving them between lakes. See Video
  • Disposing of unwanted fishing bait and aquarium animals in the trash.

Read the entire 2018 National Invasive Species Awareness Week series

More red swamp crayfish information

Additional invasive species resources

New invasive species volunteer stewardship program coming to Michigan

National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Part 4: Michigan Sea Grant receives funding to start program for paddlers.

The Paddling Detection, Reporting and Public Awareness Program will be conducted statewide on and around 12 established Michigan water trails. Map Credit: Land Information Access Association

The Paddling Detection, Reporting and Public Awareness Program will be conducted statewide on and around 12 established Michigan water trails. Map Credit: Land Information Access Association

National Invasive Species Week 2018 is Feb. 26 to March 2. Invasive species are plants, animals, and other organisms that are not traditionally found in a given location (in this case the Great Lakes) AND they have a negative impact of some kind, whether ecological, economic, social, and/or a public health threat. To increase awareness of Michigan’s invasive species, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are publishing a series of articles featuring resources and programs in our state working on invasive species issues.

Today’s article features the “Michigan Invasive Species Paddling Detection, Reporting and Public Awareness Program” a new initiative funded by the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program.

Fastest-growing outdoor activity

According to recent studies by the Outdoor Industry Association, paddlesports are among the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the United States, and that enthusiasm is reflected in a rapidly developing system of water trails all over Michigan. Along with fantastic recreational opportunities, the increased availability and use of water trails also brings challenges including concerns over the possibility of these activities becoming a more prevalent vector for the introduction or spread of invasive species.

Invasive species can be hitchikers

Many aquatic invasive species (AIS) are spread through movement of boats between impacted areas and non-impacted areas. Much has been done in Michigan to educate motorized boaters on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species by properly cleaning, draining and drying motorized boats. A network of volunteer inspectors also exists for motorized boat launch locations throughout the state. However, less effort has been put into non-motorized boater education and outreach. While some paddlers may encounter these volunteer inspectors, these interactions are serendipitous. This new program will be a targeted education and outreach campaign for paddlers to “adopt” stretches of a water trail to detect and report aquatic invasive species, helping to fill the current void in paddler engagement and helping to prevent the introduction and/or slow the spread of invasive species from recreational paddling activities.

Water trail users are key

The new AIS Paddling Stewardship Program aims to help water trail users identify and map invasive species along sections of at least 12 water trails throughout Michigan. It will also offer education on best practices for preventing the introduction or spread of invasive species through paddlesport activities.

By working directly with paddling groups and other volunteers, and by using proven and established campaigns and tools such as the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program; Clean. Drain. Dry.; Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!; and the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) smartphone app, we can provide new opportunities to assist in monitoring and reporting the presence of invasive species in areas that may otherwise go unmonitored. In addition, through educational signage, videos and a volunteer-based public awareness program, we can provide greater awareness about how to limit the introduction and spread of invasive species among paddlers as well as non-paddlers.

A yellow kayak is seen beached on the side of the lake near a pier. A stand of invasive purple loosestrife is nearby.

Program materials, training resources and volunteer tool kits will be developed in 2018 and paddling workshops will be offered beginning in the spring of 2019.

Those interested in enrolling in the 2019 training workshops should send their name and city of residence to Mary Bohling at bohling@msu.edu who will notify them when workshops in their area are scheduled.

Read the entire 2018 National Invasive Species Awareness Week series

Additional Invasive Species Resources

GLANSIS: A ‘one-stop shop’ for information on aquatic invaders

National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Part 2: The Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System provides profiles, maps, and further reading for scientists and citizens alike.

Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS) map shows the number of nonindigenous species by Great Lakes watershed.

Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS) map shows the number of nonindigenous species by Great Lakes watershed.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week this year is Feb. 26 to March 2, 2018. The goal is to draw attention to invasive species and what individuals can do to stop the spread and introduction of them. This effort is sponsored by a diverse set of partners from across the country. To increase awareness of Michigan’s invasive species, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are publishing a series of articles featuring resources and programs in our state working on invasive species issues.

This article features the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS) which provides profiles, maps, and further reading for scientists and citizens alike.

Aquatic invasive species have been a serious problem for the Great Lakes since the 1800s. By the mid-1990s, the Great Lakes were facing an invasion rate of nearly two new species every year. Across the globe, hundreds of species seemed to be on the move, and information about them was changing on a daily basis. In late 2002, Dr. Dave Reid of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) realized the need for a “one-stop” comprehensive database on aquatic nonindigenous species in the Great Lakes. Funding was secured, Dr. David Raikow was brought on to develop and manage the fledgling database, and in 2005, GLANSIS—the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System—was launched with basic information and bibliographies on 139 established nonindigenous species.

Numbers keep growing

As of 2018, 187 aquatic nonindigenous species are established in the Great Lakes, where many of them negatively impact environmental, economic, and human health. These introduced animals, plants, and microorganisms can disrupt food webs, outcompete native species, clog waterways, and even transmit parasites and disease. The ability to accurately identify these species, track their spread, and access information about how to control them is a necessity for environmental researchers and resource managers.

GLANSIS is designed to meet these needs and more. Hosted by GLERL and currently funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), the database provides identification and management information, maps of sightings, and reference material for more than 250 nonindigenous and watchlist species in the Great Lakes basin. A partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database enables GLANSIS to provide a seamless interface with their database of reports for the inland lakes. The list generator search feature allows users to look up information by scientific and common names, taxonomic groups, and specific lakes and their drainages to generate species lists and access information about each species. Another tool, the map explorer, displays all sightings of a chosen species on habitat map layers provided by the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework (GLAHF). The map explorer also allows users to quickly map sightings of selected “hot button” species like grass carp and rusty crayfish with a single click.

Who can use GLANSIS?

While GLANSIS was originally designed for use by scientists and environmental managers, this publicly-accessible tool can be used by teachers, students, anglers, property owners, and anyone who wants to learn more about invasive species in the Great Lakes. Citizens and stakeholders can help protect their local waterways by learning how to recognize, report, and stop the spread of aquatic invaders.

  • Are you a science teacher building a lesson plan on invasive species? Use the GLANSIS search portal to generate a list of species in your local waterway.
  • A student researching a chosen species for a class assignment? Check out the non-technical profiles produced by Indiana-Illinois Sea Grant to learn more about your species in plain language or access our glossary to help you understand technical reports.
  • A lake association member? Download the list of invasives for your lake (and nearby lakes, so you know what to watch for.) 
  • A researcher interested in how habitat type affects patterns of invasion? Use the map explorer to find species sightings, download them to your own GIS or use GLAHF’s habitat layers for better insight on how environmental conditions might influence their spread.
  • A property owner, fisherman or beachgoer who has found something unusual? Report your finding to us.
  • An undergraduate or graduate student looking for a project idea? Check profiles for what we don’t know or where there are gaps in the current state of the science.

To use GLANSIS and learn more about nonindigenous aquatic species in waterways near you, explore the website at https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/glansis/.

For assistance in using the database or suggestions for additional information that GLANSIS should provide, contact Rochelle.Sturtevant@noaa.gov or Erika.Lower@noaa.gov.

Read the entire 2018 National Invasive Species Awareness Week series

Additional Invasive Species Resources

2018 National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Part 1: Learn more about invasive species and what you can do to help fight this problem in Michigan.

The claws of the invasive red swamp crayfish have bright red spiky bumps. Photo Credit: Mike MurphyPhoto Credit: Mike Murphy

The claws of the invasive red swamp crayfish have bright red spiky bumps. Photo Credit: Mike MurphyPhoto Credit: Mike Murphy

 

National Invasive Species Awareness Week this year is Feb. 26 to March 2, 2018. The goal is to draw attention to invasive species and what individuals can do to stop the spread and introduction of them. To increase awareness of Michigan’s invasive species, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grantare publishing a series of articles featuring resources and programs in our state working on invasive species issues. Also, we will update previous information on the red swamp crayfish – a species we had hoped wasn’t in Michigan but was confirmed here in 2017.

What is an invasive species?

Invasive species are a threat to Michigan’s native diversity and are found everywhere in the state. Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources defines invasive species as non-native, rapidly reproducing species which threaten the integrity of natural areas. They can have devastating effects and often out-compete native species for limited resources including food and habitat. Invasive species sometimes alter and damage existing habitat, displace native species, and even prey on native species. Many invasive species are spread from place to place by human activity.

How can I help?

Here are 9 ways to help in the fight against invasive species from the National Invasive Species Awareness Week toolkit:

  1. Learn about invasive species, especially those found in your region. Your county extension office and the National Invasive Species Information Center are both trusted resources.
  2. Clean hiking boots, waders, boats and trailers, off-road vehicles and other gear to stop invasive species from hitching a ride to a new location. Learn more at PlayCleanGo.org
  3. Avoid dumping aquariums or live bait into waterways. Learn more at Habitattitude.org
  4. Don’t move firewood – instead, buy it where you’ll burn it, or gather on site when permitted. Learn more at DontMoveFirewood.org
  5. Use forage, hay, mulch and soil that are certified as “weed free.”
  6. Plant only non-invasive plants in your garden, and remove any known invaders.
  7. Report new or expanded invasive species outbreaks to authorities. Here is a state-by-state list of contacts.
  8. Volunteer to help remove invasive species from public lands and natural areas.
  9. Ask your political representatives at the state, local and national level to support invasive species control efforts.

Learn more

The National Association of Invasive Plant Council is one of the sponsors of the National Invasive Species Awareness Week. The organization will be holding several free webinars this week about invasive species:

  • 3 p.m. today (Feb. 26, 2018): SIIPA Model: Webmap on Early Detection and Rapid Response
    (The Spatial Invasive Infestation and Priority Analysis (SIIPA) model (built in ESRI ArcGIS software) was built to be a customizable tool for rapid application of a prioritization framework to known invasive populations within a preserve, management area, or region.)
  • 3 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 27, 2018): Legal Issues Surrounding Invasive Species Management
  • 4 p.m. Wed. (Feb. 28): Climate Change and Invasive Species
    (This seminar will review how climate change influences invasive species and how those changes might affect invasive species management.)
  • 3 p.m. (March 1, 2018): The Indiana CISMA Project|
    (The details an agreement that provides funding for a 5-year project aimed at developing a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) in each of Indiana’s 92 counties will be discussed.)

Additional resources

Read the entire 2018 National Invasive Species Awareness Week series

Additional Invasive Species Resources

Learn more about declining Great Lakes prey fish populations

A cross-basin overview reviews status and trends of prey fish from 1978 to 2016.

The research vessel Sturgeon conducts prey fish trawl surveys on the Great Lakes. Photo: Great Lakes Fishery Commission

The research vessel Sturgeon conducts prey fish trawl surveys on the Great Lakes. Photo: Great Lakes Fishery Commission

There were massive changes in the Great Lakes fish communities during the 20th century. During that time proliferation of sea lamprey, alewife, and smelt occurred. In the mid-20th century the collapse of native fish communities, such as lake trout and ciscoes occurred. In the late 20th century there was stocking of trout and salmon; the invasion and proliferation of zebra mussels, quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, and round gobies; declines in Diporeia (small, shrimp-like crustacean), alewife, and rainbow smelt; and the oligotrophication of Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Ontario because of low phosphorus inputs and the cropping of phytoplankton by quagga mussels. An oligotrophic lake has a deficiency of plant nutrients, usually accompanied by an abundance of dissolved oxygen.

Given this scenario questions are asked on how similar or different are the changes in fish communities across the Great Lakes and what could be causing these changes? Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension recently held an educational session at the Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference. At the conference Chuck Madenjian of the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center discussed this topic and reviewed data prepared by his colleague Owen Gorman with other contributors from U.S. Geological Survey, Ohio Department of Natural ResourcesNew York Department of Environmental ConservationPennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Here is a summary of his presentation on Great Lakes prey fish:

Assessments of Great Lakes prey fish stocks have been conducted annually by the U.S. Geological Survey since the 1970s using bottom trawl surveys. The focus of the surveys has been on the prey species cisco, bloater, rainbow smelt, alewife, and round goby. Total prey fish (alewife, rainbow smelt, bloater, and cisco) biomass declined during 1978-2016 in Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron. Lake Ontario is now different based on a new correction factor and prey fish biomass was not available for Lake Erie.

Coregonids

There was a synchronous decline in coregonid (whitefish, cisco or lake herring, bloater, kiyi) biomass in Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron during 1978-2016 with peak biomass occurring during 1989-1992. Lake Huron showed a coregonid rebound during 2008-2012. Predation does not appear to be the primary driver of bloater dynamics during 1978-2016. Some fishery biologists believe predation on bloaters by salmon and trout is more important nowadays than during the 1980s and 1990s, but most of the diet data do not support this contention. There may be population-intrinsic factors (sex ratio); changes in climate patterns; changes in trawl catchability over time due to changes in bloater behavior or increased water transparency in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Alewife

In Lakes Huron and Michigan there was a synchronous decline in alewife biomass during 1978-2016. Alewife is the dominant prey fish in Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Ontario. It is rare in Lakes Superior and Erie. Predation has been the primary driver of alewife dynamics in Lake Michigan since the 1960s and it is likely the main driver of alewife dynamics in Lakes Huron and Ontario as well.

Rainbow smelt

Rainbow smelt had a synchronous decline in Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, and Ontario during 1978-2016. Lake Superior peaked earlier than the other lakes in 1978. In these four lakes, rainbow smelt was an important prey species before the mid-1990s and is now a minor prey species. Predation appears to be the primary driver of rainbow smelt dynamics in Lake Superior but not in Lake Michigan.

Round goby

Round goby biomass increased in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario during the 1990s or 2000s, then peaked, perhaps even decreased somewhat, and appears to have leveled off in all four lakes. Further increases in round goby biomass are not expected. Round gobies in Lake Superior are mainly limited to harbors. Round goby populations in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario now appear to be under some degree of predatory control as they are fed upon by smallmouth bass, lake whitefish, burbot, lake trout, brown trout, yellow perch, other fish and birds. There are relatively high annual mortality rates (> 60% each year) in open waters of Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie.

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.

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: