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.

Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference

Event Date: 1/27/2018

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

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

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

See: MFPA Agenda

October is National Seafood Month

Event Date: 10/1/2017
End Date: 10/31/2017

Michigan fish producers offer a wide variety of products for consumers.

By Ron Kinnunen

Locally produced Michigan Great Lakes smoked fish is a delicious option to try to celebrate National Seafood Month. Photo: Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

October is National Seafood Month which is a great time to spotlight sustainable fisheries and the fishery products they provide to the consumer.

In the U.S. there are a variety of locally produced fishery products available to the consumer that are either wild caught or farm raised. The U.S. wild-caught fishery provides the most diverse products to choose from. The leading farm-raised products produced in the U.S. include catfish, crawfish, trout, salmon, oysters, and clams.

Many Michigan options

In Michigan, both locally produced farm-raised fish, as well as wild-caught Great Lakes fish, are available for consumers. Michigan aquaculture producers supply a number of food fish species for purchase at the farm gate and/or local markets and retail outlets. Most of this farm-raised fish in Michigan is rainbow trout.

Lake whitefish is the most-caught commercial fish in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes. Today, the Great Lakes commercial fishery for lake whitefish is managed for sustainability, with most of these fish caught from lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. Great Lakes whitefish from Michigan’s highly managed fisheries is caught by small, family based operations and processed locally, making it an important economic component to local coastal communities. To learn more about this Michigan Great Lakes commercial fishery you can visit Great Lakes Whitefish.

Read the label

Ninety percent of seafood sold in Michigan is imported. By reading labels customers can determine where the fish they buy was produced. All large retail grocery stores are required by the Country of Origin Labeling law to label the seafood that they sell as either wild caught or farm raised and what country it originated from. Country of Origin Labeling was a provision of the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill and is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If customers choose to eat Great Lakes fish, reading labels is key.

And whether you prefer your seafood grilled, boiled, baked or smoked, Michigan Sea Grant has some great resources for recipes. Our cookbook “Wild Caught and Close to Home: Selecting and Preparing Great Lakes Whitefish” has whitefish recipes, and offers cooking techniques and insights from chefs. Our “Freshwater Feasts” blog also offers recipes and more.

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

Evidence of prehistoric caribou hunters found below Lake Huron

Research continues this summer on a series of targets on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in the lake.

Diver and MSU alum Tyler Schultz and 'Jake' the ROV collect samples in central Lake Huron.

Diver and MSU alum Tyler Schultz and ‘Jake’ the ROV collect samples in central Lake Huron. Photo: John O’Shea | University of Michigan Museum of Anthropologial Archaeology

In 2009 a paper was published in the National Academy of Sciences on “Evidence of Early Hunters below the Great Lakes” by researchers John O’Shea (curator of Great Lakes Archaeology at the University Of Michigan Museum Of Anthropological Archaeology) and Guy Meadows (Director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University.) These researchers found evidence of human activity on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in Lake Huron. This ridge during an extreme low-water phase would have provided a land causeway across the middle of modern Lake Huron linking northern Michigan with central Ontario.

The post-glacial history of the Great Lakes is characterized by a series of high and low water periods. The most extreme low-water period is referred to as the Lake Stanley stage in Lake Huron which occurred 7,000 to 11,500 years ago with lake levels 230 to 328 feet below modern lake levels. During this time period the Lake Huron basin contained two lakes separated by a ridge or causeway extending northwest to southeast across the basin from the area of Presque Isle, Mich., to Point Clark in Ontario, now known as the Alpena-Amberley Ridge.

Human occupation in the upper Great Lakes is associated with the drop in water level to the Lake Stanley stage and they inhabited an environment that was colder and drier than present with spruce-dominated forests. The researchers found that the problem in investigating these earlier time periods is that intact sites of early human occupation are extremely rare and the critical evidence exists beneath Lake Huron. Thus the researchers’ utilized surface-towed side scan sonar and remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) to determine whether human occupation sites were present on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge beneath Lake Huron.

The survey indicated evidence for the existence of hunting structures and human activity associated with the ridge and demonstrated a series of features that were consistent in form, construction, and placement with known caribou hunting structures. Stone constructions, such as caribou drive lanes, hunting blinds, and habitation sites of the kind seen in sub-arctic regions appear to be preserved on the lake bottom.

More recent research published in 2016 in Geoarchaeology by Elizabeth Sonnenburg (Stantec Consulting Ltd.) and John O’Shea who used ROV and diver surveys to get a closer look at the structures, investigate lake bottom conditions and visibility, and map the structures at close range. In addition sediment samples were collected for paleoenvironmental analysis. From this research a series of indicators, including distinct microfossil assemblages (such as species only found in sphagnum moss and boggy arctic ponds), rooted trees (tamarack and spruce), and charcoal (8,000–9,000 years old) revealed a series of microenvironments that are consistent with a subarctic climate.

Research that was led by O’Shea and published in a 2014 National Academy of Sciences paper revealed a newly discovered caribou drive lane which was the most complex hunting structure found to date beneath the Great Lakes. The drive lane site and its artifacts provided insight into the social and seasonal organization of prehistoric caribou hunting. When combined with environmental and simulation studies it was found that different seasonal strategies were used by early hunters on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge. Autumn hunting was carried out by small groups and spring hunts were conducted by larger groups of cooperating hunters.

This summer O’Shea will be leading a research project utilizing a submarine to ground-truth (determine facts by examining the ground for targets revealed by remote sensing) a series of targets, such as those described here, to further confirm their cultural origin and age.

Michigan Sea Grant’s HACCP safety programming efforts have helped hundreds of businesses

Programs include Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) for Seafood Safety, and Preventing the Movement of Aquatic Invasive Species.

The Magic Springs trout production facility helps contribute to the 40 million pounds of trout production per year in Idaho.

The Magic Springs trout production facility helps contribute to the 40 million pounds of trout production per year in Idaho. Photo: Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

Michigan Sea Grant Extension has served as the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center representative on the planning committee for the National Aquaculture Extension Conference for the last two years. At the recent conference in Boise, Idaho, Michigan Sea Grant coordinated a Great Lakes session and presented on its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programming efforts with the commercial fishing, aquaculture, and baitfish industries.

Seafood HACCP is a system for food safety control and is preventive, not reactive. It is a management tool used to protect the food supply against biological, chemical, and physical hazards. HACCPs emphasize process control and concentrate on the points in the process that are critical to the safety of the product. Every fish processor is required to have and implement a written HACCP plan whenever a hazard analysis reveals one or more food-safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur. A HACCP plan is specific to each processing location and each species of fish and type of fishery product.

Some exceptions

The Seafood HACCP regulation does not apply to the harvest or transport of fish or fishery products, or the operation of retail establishments. Practices such as heading, eviscerating, or freezing intended solely to prepare fish for holding on a harvest vessel are also exempt from the regulation.

Aquaculture practices exempt from the HACCP regulation include harvesting and boxing unprocessed fish on ice for immediate transportation, live fish hauling to various markets, custom processing the fish directly for the consumer who does not resell it, and fee fish operations.

More than 650 benefit from training

Since the inception of the Seafood HACCP regulation, Michigan Sea Grant Extension has conducted 25 three-day Seafood HACCP courses in the Great Lakes region training 653 commercial fishers, processors, and aquaculturists. More than 200 follow-up visits to fish processing facilities have been conducted to assist with the implementation of HACCP plans. The benefits of Seafood HACCP has resulted in fish processors developing value-added fishery products which increases their revenues.

Aquatic invasive species HACCP training offered, too

Several years ago Michigan Sea Grant and Minnesota Sea Grant developed an Aquatic Invasive Species-HACCP (AIS-HACCP) program following the principles of the Seafood HACCP program. Aquatic invasive species can invade and disrupt baitfish and aquaculture operations as they have been identified as a pathway for the spread of AIS. The hazards that have been identified in the AIS-HACCP program include AIS fish and other vertebrates, AIS invertebrates, AIS plants, and fish diseases.

AIS-HACCP training materials were developed and Michigan Sea Grant Extension worked with the baitfish and aquaculture industry representatives on training programs and developing AIS-HACCP plans specific to their operations. Michigan Sea Grant Extension has conducted over 40 AIS-HACCP one-day training programs in the North Central Region of the United States.

What’s the best fish to stock in your Michigan fishing pond?

Stocking the wrong species can lead to problems down the road.

Rainbow trout, such as these, are used to stock cold-water ponds. Photo: Ron Kinnunen

Rainbow trout, such as these, are used to stock cold-water ponds. Photo: Ron Kinnunen

Spring is the time of year to evaluate the type and quantity of fish to put in your farm pond. This is a critical decision as it will dictate the quality of fishing in the pond for years to come. Many make common mistakes when stocking fish into their pond that includes stocking the wrong type of fish species or the wrong combinations of fish species that are not compatible with each other.

Warm-water ponds

If you have a warm-water pond it is best to stock largemouth bass. A common mistake when stocking largemouth bass is to also stock bluegills with them. Many think that stocking the bluegills will provide forage fish for the largemouth bass and enhance their growth. Bluegills have the tendency to overpopulate the pond, monopolize the food supply, and stunt out in growth. Largemouth bass in our northern climate have a difficult time keeping bluegill populations in check. When stocking largemouth bass, it is best to have an established minnow population that they can forage on. These minnows can include fathead and bluntnose minnows.

Bluegills are many times stocked in Michigan ponds as the sole fish species. Several years of good fishing will occur after initial stocking of bluegills but over time they will overpopulate the pond, severely deplete the food supply, resulting in decreased growth rates that are not conducive to good quality fishing. Even as the growth of the bluegills decreases they will still remain very prolific producing even more bluegills which will tax the food supply. As an alternative to stocking bluegills, some will stock hybrid sunfish which is a cross between a green sunfish female and bluegill male. This hybrid cross results in the production of mostly male fish which can reduce reproduction in the early years resulting in larger growth and better quality fishing. But over time reproduction will occur and the quality of the fishery will be reduced.

Cold-water ponds

If you have a cold-water pond, you can stock trout. The best species to stock are brook and rainbow trout. These two fish species can also be stocked together. Avoid stocking brown trout as they are difficult to catch and as they grow they will eat other trout making it difficult to restock your pond. When stocking trout do not stock any other species of fish with them including minnows. Minnows will compete with trout for feed and reduce their growth rates. For trout, there is no need to stock forage fish. There are plenty of natural foods, such as aquatic insects, that inhabit the pond on which the trout can feed.

Avoid cool-water fish

Avoid stocking cool-water fish, such as yellow perch, walleye, and northern pike in ponds. These fish need large open water systems and will not do well in ponds. Yellow perch like bluegills are prolific breeders and can soon overpopulate a pond, monopolize the food source, and stunt out.

And never use grass carp to solve excessive aquatic plant growth problems as it is illegal to possess this fish species in Michigan.

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.