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Great Lakes native fish research and rehabilitation underway
August 23, 2022
Today’s MI Environment story is from the State of the Great Lakes report.
Over-fishing. Loss of habitat. Invasive species. Changes in water temperature. All these issues – and more – make fisheries management a challenge in the Great Lakes for a group of fish called coregonines, which includes lake whitefish and cisco, also called lake herring. Collaborative work is underway through the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s lake committees to conduct research and identify solutions.
Monitoring midwater trawl depth and hydroacoustic targets during a survey in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron. (Photo courtesy of DNR.)
The Lake Superior Technical Committee and its member agencies have been engaged in research to determine factors important in cisco recruitment dynamics. Cisco is an important commercial species in Lake Superior, but recruitment has been low and inconsistent in recent years. Agencies are engaged in lake whitefish acoustic telemetry work around the Buffalo Reef complex, an important lake whitefish spawning habitat threatened by encroaching stamp sands.
The lake-wide assessment plan (LWAP) is a collaborative effort across Lake Michigan resource agencies to improve consistency of data collection for both lake whitefish and cisco. For example, standardized seining surveys are conducted each year by agencies to index the abundance and growth of young-of-year cisco and lake whitefish. Several shorter-term targeted research efforts have been initiated in recent years. Multiple investigations of nearshore zooplankton populations, larval emergence, growth and feeding patterns have been funded in recent years with interest in contrasting the two species. Controlled laboratory studies are also being conducted to further explore variation among the two species in foraging behaviors, preferences and vulnerability to predation. Unique to lake whitefish, river surveys have been conducted to evaluate whether there are river-spawning populations in Michigan. That will inform discussions about how to best incorporate river populations into management plans.
The Lake Huron Technical Committee is beginning an effort to review and implement its lake whitefish research priorities. It has embarked on a decade-long cisco reintroduction experiment and evaluation. Up to a million fingerling cisco are being stocked annually in the vicinity of outer Saginaw Bay using northern Lake Huron populations as source populations. These stockings are being assessed through existing fish community assessments, targeted sampling, and surveys of recreational and commercial fishers.
Lake ErieWhile the habitat in western Lake Erie doesn’t support coregonids year-round at this time, its tributaries, including the Detroit River, historically hosted some of the largest populations of coregonines in the Great Lakes through the 1920s. Remnant populations of lake whitefish still exist, and the system still provides important spawning habitat for lake whitefish. Substantial effort has gone into restoring reef spawning habitat that was lost to development in the past century This renewed interest in a group of key native fish is expected to pay dividends this decade with the revival of these remarkable fish. These efforts that are benefiting Michigan fish populations would be impossible without the efforts of many partners and funding through Sportfish Restoration and State Wildlife Grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These conservation dollars are matched by funds from Michigan’s Game and Fish Protection Fund that is supported by fishing and hunting lic