RV Lake Char

Photo of Research Vessel Lake Char
RV Lake Char - new vessel in the Michigan DNR Fisheries research fleet.

The Research Vessel Lake Char was christened on May 1, 2007 in Marquette's lower harbor. She is Michigan DNR's new work platform to perform fisheries research on Lake Superior. "Lake Char" is a variation on the name for lake trout, the top native predator fish in Lake Superior.

The RV Lake Char is 56 ft long with a 16 ft beam and a draft of 4 1/2 ft. It is constructed of welded aluminum alloy and has a displacement of about 26 tons. It is powered by twin Caterpillar C12 diesel engines and has a cruising speed of about 19 knots (22 mph).

The vessel was designed by Tim Graul, a naval architect in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and built by Dave Andersen of Andersen Boat Works in Douglas, Michigan. Machinery installations were done by Paul Jensen of Marine Management Ltd. in Muskegon, Michigan.

The Lake Char replaces the RV Judy, a vessel that saw 53 years of service on the Great Lakes, the last 28 years of which were with Michigan DNR. Besides being a new and up-to date vessel, the Lake Char allows us to continue our work with tremendous improvements in safety, flexibility, and dependability. Specifically, safety advantages of the Lake Char include having twin screws so that we can still return to shore even if one engine fails; greater speed to get to safe haven when threatening weather comes on; a compartmentalized hull to greatly reduce the danger of sinking; and an enclosed work area that provides better protection from the elements. Greater flexibility comes from the capability to do all that we do presently as well as everything we foresee the need to do in the future. The Lake Char was designed and built to be dependable and low maintenance for 50+ years.

The Michigan DNR's Fisheries Division has four Great Lakes vessels, one each on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie. These vessels are vital to our mission to protect, promote, and preserve the Great Lakes. It is both a tremendous privilege and a huge responsibility to take on this stewardship role. Other states, tribes, the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada share this stewardship, but the State of Michigan has management responsibility for 43%, or 38,575 square miles, of the Great Lakes, much more than any other entity.

The Great Lakes are undeniably important ecologically and on a global scale, containing 20% of the world's fresh water. Recreational boating on the Great Lakes each year is valued at $16 billion. The commercial and sport fishery on the Great Lakes is collectively valued at more than $4 billion annually, and the tourism-related value to hundreds of Great Lakes coastal communities is billions more. The Great Lakes are also important for municipal, agricultural, and industrial purposes.

Our vessels are a direct link to these resources and contribute in a very comprehensive way to all the work done by Fisheries Division and to the broader areas of biology and ecology. Vessel crews conduct inventories and collect data used to estimate relative abundance, biomass, age and growth, health, diet, survival rates, natural reproduction, and movements of fish in the Great Lakes. This work enables us to identify and separate stocks by their geographical and biological characteristics, estimate forage to aid in setting stocking levels that are consistent with fish community goals, do contaminant analysis, follow lamprey wounding trends, and document effects and spread of exotics and diseases. Vessel data are also used to help evaluate fishing regulations and the success of stocking (strains, survival, return to creel, cost efficiencies), and the work is closely tied to collaborative agreements with other management agencies and governments. Vessel work is critical to meeting legal mandates of the 2000 Consent Decree. As, well, vessel data have supported numerous individual studies and have spawned an impressive variety of research reports and articles over the years. In short, the value of the program is well established.

It was a long, challenging, and interesting six-year process, beginning in 2001, to get the Lake Char to Marquette. We were fortunate to have been granted funding from a specific appropriation that was set aside for a new vessel. This appropriation was passed by both the Michigan House and Senate and signed by Governor Engler in 2002. The money came from the Game and Fish fund (restricted fund originating from license sales, etc., not from general fund tax money).

Many people were instrumental in getting the Lake Char to Marquette. In particular, we are indebted to governors Engler and Granholm, the Michigan Legislature, DNR directors Cool and Humphries, Fisheries Chief Kelley Smith, and the Fisheries Division Management Team for supporting and funding this project.

Other key people who were vitally important in this endeavor spanned sections and divisions across the Department of Natural Resources. These employees, past and present, listed alphabetically, include: Brandon Bastar, Don Cole, Clarence "Tuffy" Cross, Jeff Diemond, Jan Fenske, Jim Johnson, Jim Knape, Sharon Maynard, Kathy Nemeth, Theresa Pohl, Kevin Rathbun, Phil Schneeberger, Dick Schorfhaar, Kristina Squibb, William Walsh, Mark Werda, and Tim Wille.

Lake Char general information:
Length - 56 feet
Beam - 16 feet
Draft - 4 1/2 feet
Displacement - 26 tons
Speed - 19 knots
Hull - Aluminum displacement
Year built - 2006

Lake Char crew:
Captain - Kevin Rathbun
Assistant Captain - Chris Little
Deck Hand - Greg Kleaver